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Texas Senator John Cornyn’s Path to Reelection Just Got Tougher

MJ Hegar speaks to voters in Georgetown, Texas, on September 15, 2018. Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

One of the Senate’s more vulnerable Republicans will face a familiar Democratic challenger in 2020. MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who lost a congressional race to John Carter in 2018, announced on Tuesday that she intends to challenge Texas senator John Cornyn for his Senate seat.

“Texans deserve a senator who represents our values, strength, courage, independence — putting Texas first,” she said in a campaign announcement reported by the Texas Tribune. “I didn’t get a pilot slot my first time trying. We Texans don’t give up easy, and everything we’ve accomplished is just the beginning.”

Hegar lost to Carter by three points, a narrow margin reminiscent of another Texas Democrat’s long-shot bid against an incumbent Republican. While Beto O’Rourke tries to spin his near-victory over Ted Cruz into a viable campaign for president, Hegar has decided to explore her chances a bit closer to home.

For Texas Democrats, the Republican senator is a tempting target. Though he has a lot of cash to spend, a February poll from Quinnipiac University points out possible weaknesses. Cornyn is less popular than his fellow Texas senator, Ted Cruz. He’s also a less polarizing figure — the same poll showed that while fewer Texans approved of Cornyn’s job performance, his disapproval ratings were lower than Cruz’s — but that might not be enough to protect his seat. Democrats flipped two congressional seats and 12 state House seats last November; Texas is more competitive for Democrats than it has been in years.

Hegar, with her strong showing against Carter, could prove to be a serious contender for Cornyn’s seat. Her recent campaign increased her visibility, thanks in part to viral campaign ads that emphasized her military background and her decision to sue the Pentagon for blocking women from entering ground combat positions. (Hegar won.)

But Hegar will have competition, too. The Dallas Morning News reports that a handful of lower-profile Democratic candidates have already launched campaigns against the senator. And she probably won’t be the last Democrat to announce a campaign against Cornyn, either. Joaquin Castro, who represents the state’s 20th Congressional District and is the twin brother of presidential candidate Julián Castro, has also expressed interest in the race. In comments to the Morning News, he did not rule out a future campaign. If he does enter the race, he’ll have an edge over Hegar, who hasn’t held office and whose actual policy positions remain somewhat opaque. Asked directly by Refinery29 for a position on gun control after the Parkland shooting, Hegar, then a congressional candidate, told the website only that “gun violence is the ‘greatest threat’ to the Second Amendment and that she is ‘passionately committed’ to legislating away the gun violence epidemic.”

Hegar may hope that her moderate approach will be an appealing contrast to Cornyn, who’s fashioned himself a close ally of President Trump. Next year, we’ll find out if she’s right.

Senator John Cornyn’s Path to Reelection Just Got Tougher