MJ Hegar, the Air Force veteran who narrowly lost a 2018 House bid against Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), announced Tuesday that she will challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) for his seat in 2020.
“Texans deserve a senator who represents our values: strength, courage, independence, putting Texas first,” Hegar said in a video announcing her Senate bid that included a cameo appearance by comedian Patton Oswalt.
Hegar’s entrance into the race sets up the potential for a bruising Democratic primary.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) is also seriously considering a Senate run in 2020, and, like Hegar, has prominent Democrats backing him.
Democrats have long eyed Texas as a potential battleground, pointing to signs that the longtime reliably red state has begun to trend toward flipping to blue in recent years.
President Trump carried the state by 9 points in 2016, down from Mitt Romney’s nearly 16-point win in 2012.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) 2-point loss to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) last year energized the Democratic Party even further, prompting them to set their sights on Cornyn, the former Senate majority whip.
Hegar’s Senate announcement has been in the works for weeks.
After O’Rourke, who is now running for the Democratic presidential nomination, announced that he would not mount a bid for Senate in 2020, Hegar met with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a strong sign that she was considering a challenge to Cornyn.
And just this week, Hegar posted a since-deleted tweet that included a photo of Cornyn’s Senate office.
Hegar became a top-tier contender for the Senate after she came within 3 points of ousting Carter in Texas's 31st District last year — a district that Trump carried by nearly 13 points in 2016.
Republicans immediately took aim at Hegar, denouncing her as Schumer’s hand-picked candidate.
“New York liberal Chuck Schumer found his chosen candidate in MJ Hegar,” Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said. “Hollywood Hegar’s support for late-term abortion and government-run health care will play better with progressive Hollywood celebrities than with mainstream Texans.”
Cornyn’s campaign manager, John Jackson, suggested that Hegar’s announcement was a sign that Schumer had managed to shut down Castro’s Senate ambitions.
“It appears Chuck Schumer was able to push Joaquin Castro out of the race, and we’ll see if he has the same success with Councilwoman Edwards,” he said, referring to Amanda Edwards, a Houston city council member who is also considering a run for the Senate seat.
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