Democrat MJ Hegar makes runoff in crowded Texas Senate race

MJ Hegar

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate MJ Hegar shows her tattoo to supporters during her election night party in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrat MJ Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, advanced to a runoff in May after falling short of capturing the nomination outright on Tuesday.

Cornyn, who was renominated for a fourth term, is seen as a heavy favorite in November in a state where a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat since the 1970s. This year’s race hasn’t mustered the same energy or attention as Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s barnstorming run in 2018 against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz that became a launchpad the former congressman’s short-lived White House run.

Hegar’s challengers included Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, a liberal political organizer who received financial backing from progressive groups and the endorsement of progressive luminaries such as like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Also in the Democratic primary was Royce West, a long-serving state senator.

Cornyn was once the second-ranking Senate Republican and has never faced a serious reelection challenge since joining the Senate in 2002. He is regarded as less polarizing than Cruz, who nearly lost to O’Rourke two years ago in a surprisingly close challenge that reinvigorated Democrats about their long-dismal prospects in Texas.

O’Rourke raised a record $80 million and energized Democrats nationally in a campaign that hit all 254 Texas counties and was relentlessly livestreamed.

But this year’s contest has been far quieter. The race drew a dozen Democratic challengers, and most of the field has struggled to gain traction or even name recognition with voters.

Hegar, a Purple Heart recipient who was injured in Afghanistan, entered the race with the highest profile after a failed U.S. House run in 2018 that drew national attention over a series of viral television ads. They highlighted her three tours in Afghanistan and her surviving a helicopter downing by the Taliban

She won the backing of Senate Democrats’ campaign organization and raised $4 million, more than any of her rivals.

The runoff is May 26.

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