MJ Hegar said during her 2018 House race that she relishes “insurmountable odds.” This morning, she lived up to her word by becoming the first Democrat to enter the 2020 Senate race in Texas against 20-year incumbent Sen. John Cornyn. The former Republican whip is one of the most powerful members of the GOP.
The announcement comes barely six months after Hegar, a former Air Force pilot, entered her first political race, for the House, where she would have been the first Democrat to ever represent her district. She lost to 14-year Republican incumbent Rep. John Carter by a mere three points – a major shift from two years prior, when President Trump carried the district by 13 points.
Democrats like Hegar are hoping to build on 2018’s progress to get to the finish line in 2020. Hegar, 43, has less political experience than Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who nearly toppled Sen. Ted Cruz in November to end the 24-year shutout of Democrats from statewide office in Texas, but her burgeoning track record is a strong indication that the message of “changing the status quo” is resonating with moderate and undecided voters in the state.
“Texans deserve a senator who represents our values: strength, courage, independence, putting Texas first,” Hegar says in her new campaign video, donning a leather jacket while riding her motorcycle.
Two sleek campaign videos put Hegar in the national spotlight during her 2018 congressional race, helping her to raise $5 million against Carter. Her latest video recaps her military achievements, from serving three tours in Afghanistan to taking down the Ground Combat Exclusion policy on Capitol Hill. But it also takes shots at her opponent – “the tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell” – Sen. Cornyn.
“He calls himself ‘Big John,’ but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything getting done in our government,” Hegar says in the video.
She calls out Cornyn specifically on what has become a hallmark of her political platform: protecting health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Weeks after losing the congressional race, Hegar got to work as chief patient advocate for Hippo, a technology company that helps people find the cheapest prescription drug prices possible. She said she was moved by stories she heard on the campaign trail about constituents struggling to afford health care and wants to work with D.C. lawmakers to make the pharmaceutical industry more transparent.
Cornyn has attacked Hegar’s views on the issue. A spokesperson for Cornyn’s campaign told Politico that Hegar is “Chuck Schumer’s handpicked candidate for good reason: She supports government-run health care that would eliminate private insurance, crushing new taxes, and late-term abortion.”
Whether Cornyn’s reputation as a reliable Trump ally will hurt or help him keep his seat is the question. Right now, he’s playing defense. He already raised over $7.5 million for his 2020 campaign, more than any other incumbent up for re-election so far. If Hegar’s last race was any indication, he’s going to need it.