AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Air Force veteran MJ Hegar of Texas said Tuesday she will run for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent John Cornyn, becoming the first major Democrat to jump into one of 2020’s marquee races.
Hegar, 43, gained widespread attention last year when she ran for Congress in one of Texas’ safest Republican districts and only narrowly lost to Republican Rep. John Carter. Her military backstory and viral television ads caught the eye of Democrats around the country who donated to her campaign.
Cornyn has served in the Senate since 2002 and was the No. 2 Republican in the chamber until this year. He has never faced a serious re-election challenge in Texas, where a Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate seat since the 1970s.
He is also a formidable incumbent, even as Democrats have renewed confidence about their prospects in the nation’s largest conservative state following Beto O’Rourke’s near-upset of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year.
“Washington still has a lot of listening to do, and I’m gonna make sure they hear us,” Hegar says in a four-minute video announcing her decision. “Texans deserve a Senator who represents our values: strength, courage, independence, putting Texas first.”
Hegar served three tours in Afghanistan and was in a helicopter that was shot down by the Taliban. She has openly flirted with a Senate run for months and has had talks with Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.
Her video revisits her underdog run for Congress, pays homage to O’Rourke for boosting Texas Democrats up and down the ballot in 2018 and cuts to her riding off on a motorcycle, telling voters to “saddle up” for the race ahead.
Cornyn’s campaign attacked Hegar as “Chuck Schumer’s handpicked candidate,” and it defended Cornyn’s record on veterans and helping Texas through the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“Texas rejected her radical views once and they will again,” said Cornyn’s campaign manager, John Jackson.
Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro is also considering entering the Senate race. He didn’t immediately react to Hegar’s announcement, but last week he reiterated that he planned to make a decision soon and suggested that Hegar entering the race wouldn’t deter him.
“I think that probably the era of uncontested primaries in both parties in Texas is over,” Castro said last week during a visit to the Texas Capitol.