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Texas Senate 2020: MJ Hegar challenges John Cornyn

Democrat raised more than $5 million in an unsuccessful House race in 2018

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is running for a fourth term next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is running for a fourth term next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who raised millions in an unsuccessful House race in 2018, announced Tuesday that she is taking on Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

The Democrat garnered national attention last cycle with a viral web video “Doors” highlighting her background as a combat veteran. She was injured in Afghanistan and later sued the Defense Department over the barring of women from certain positions. In a nearly four-minute video released Tuesday, Hegar once again introduced herself to Texans, recapping her 2018 spot.

“Here’s the thing: I didn’t win that election,” she says in the video after highlighting her 2018 race. “But we won something much bigger: We didn’t just close the gap in my district by almost 20 points, we helped change the status quo.”

[You lost a House race in 2018? Now run for Senate in 2020]

Hegar lost her challenge to GOP Rep. John Carter in Texas’s 31st District by just under 3 points. Carter had won re-election by 22 points two years earlier while President Donald Trump was carrying the seat by 13 points. With help from her viral video, Hegar was able to raise more than $5.1 million, outpacing some 2018 Senate candidates.

EMILY’s List, a group that backs female Democrats who support abortion rights, had been in contact with Hegar as well as Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards, in the hopes of supporting a female opponent to Cornyn. Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro has also been weighing a Senate run.

Castro campaign adviser Matthew Jones signaled in a statement Tuesday that the San Antonio congressman was still considering a bid.

“As we said last week, the era of uncontested primaries in Texas is over,” Jones said. “Every candidate in this race has announced on their own timeline and is making their own case to the voters of Texas. Joaquin is no different. The last two campaigns he has fought, and won, started with a tough primary.”

Although she raised millions last cycle, Hegar would start the Senate race with a financial disadvantage. Cornyn’s campaign had $7.4 million in the bank as of March 31, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Hegar’s House campaign, which can transfer funds to a Senate race, had just $37,000 on hand on March 31. Castro had $88,000.

Republicans were quick to knock Hegar on Tuesday for some of her celebrity supporters. In her video, Hegar noted support from a handful of actors.

[MJ Hegar outraises Carter in longshot bid in Texas]

“New York liberal Chuck Schumer found his chosen candidate in MJ Hegar,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Jesse Hunt said in a statement. “Hollywood Hegar’s support for late-term abortion and government-run health care will play better with progressive Hollywood celebrities than with mainstream Texans.”

In a statement, Cornyn’s campaign manager John Jackson also called Hegar too liberal for Texas.

“Texans rejected her radical views once and they will again,” he said.

Democrats are hopeful that the Texas Senate race could be competitive after former Rep. Beto O’Rourke came within 3 points of defeating the state’s other GOP senator, Ted Cruz, last fall. Hegar referenced O’Rourke’s race in her video.

“It wasn’t just our race. Beto nearly won a Texas Senate race and dropped the f-bomb on live TV,” Hegar said. “Talk about Texas making its voice heard.”

But the longtime Republican state will likely still be an uphill climb for any Democrat. Trump carried Texas by 9 points in 2016 — the narrowest margin for a GOP presidential candidate in two decades. But Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, the longest drought for any party in the country.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2020 Senate contest Solid Republican.

ICYMI: MJ Hegar says opponent campaign threw candy at her kids

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