Texas' John Cornyn to face Air Force vet MJ Hegar in 2020 Senate race

With the memory of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s tough re-election campaign against former congressman – and current 2020 Democratic presidential candidate – Beto O’Rourke still fresh in the minds of many Texans, voters in the Longhorn state are readying themselves for another senatorial race pitting a longtime GOP stalwart against an up-and-coming Democrat.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will face a re-election battle next year against Democrat Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, after the former Air Force helicopter pilot Tuesday declared her intent to run for one of Texas’ Senate seats.

“Washington still has a lot of listening to do, and I’m gonna make sure they hear us,” Hegar said in a video announcing her campaign. “Texans deserve a senator who represents our values: strength, courage, independence, putting Texas first.”

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Hegar - who lives in Round Rock, just north of Austin, with her husband and two children – served three tours in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009, when she flew combat search-and-rescue and medevac missions. In 2009, she was shot down and wounded during a mission, earning a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device for her actions to save her crew and patients.

In 2012, Hegar filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of Defense that was part of the movement that ultimately led to the Combat Exclusion Policy, banning women from certain military positions, being deemed unconstitutional.

In her campaign announcement, Hegar accused Cornyn of aligning himself too closely with Republican Party leaders and not looking after the interests of Texans.

“He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government,” she said. “And now John Cornyn’s shrinking out of the way again while they try to take away protections for those of us with pre-existing health conditions. Weakness, partisanship, gridlock - those are not Texas values, John. But maybe you’ve been in Washington so long that you’ve forgotten that.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee retorted by calling Hegar Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer’s “chosen candidate” and labeling the Air Force vet as “Hollywood Hegar” for her support from celebrities like Broadway star Lin Manuel Miranda.

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“New York liberal Chuck Schumer found his chosen candidate in MJ Hegar,” NRSC Communications Director 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.”

This is not Hegar’s first foray into politics.

Last fall, Hegar lost a close race for Texas’ 31st Congressional District against incumbent Rep. John Carter, who is now serving his ninth term on Capitol Hill. Carter earned 50.8 percent of the vote, with Hegar pulling in 47.5 percent and Libertarian Jason Hope about 1.6 percent of the overall vote.