Air Force and Air National Guard combat veteran MJ Hegar on Tuesday announced her bid to take Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) seat back for the Democrats in 2020, just months after she led a viral campaign against – and narrowly lost to – Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) in 2018.
“Unseating an entrenched incumbent senator is going to be tough, but I’ve faced worse odds in my life,” she tweeted Tuesday while unveiling her 2020 campaign video. “Saddle up, Texas. I’m in.”
Hegar, 43, came within three percentage points of beating Carter in the 2018 midterm elections, and Hegar’s 2020 bid would pit her against Cornyn, who has served as the senior senator from Texas since 2002 and has held the Senate Majority Whip position since 2015.
Her 2018 campaign for the House went viral with her video entitled “Doors,” which highlighted her Air Force career and efforts to repeal the Combat Exclusion Policy that restricted women from applying to ground combat positions.
Hegar served in the Air Force from 1999 to 2011, and has worked as an aircraft maintenance officer for the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet and the B-2 Spirit bomber. She was selected for pilot training in 2004 by the Air National Guard, and served three tours in Afghanistan flying combat search-and-rescue and medical evacuation missions as a helicopter pilot.
During her third tour of Afghanistan in 2009, Hegar was shot down on a medevac mission near Kandahar and sustained injuries. She was awarded the Purple Heart in December 2009 for successfully rescuing the soldiers after a forced landing under heavy fire and returning fire on the Taliban while being airlifted out by a U.S. Army helicopter. In 2011, she received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device for her actions on this mission.
Hegar was later medically disqualified from the Air Force due to a sustained back injury from that mission and due to restrictions on woman applying for ground combat positions under the Combat Exclusion Policy. She was one of two lead plaintiffs in a legal suit filed in 2012 against the policy, which was then repealed in 2013.
She has also worked as an executive coach and consultant, and taught at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, as well as in the Women’s Studies and ROTC departments.
In her 2018 race against Carter, Hegar raised over $5 million in campaign donations and ended the race with a little over $47,000, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Carter, who has represented Texas’ 31st Congressional District since 2003 and is currently the ranking member of the House Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, raised nearly $1.8 million and ended the race with over $254,000 on hand.
Cornyn won his 2014 re-election campaign by nearly 62 percent. He raised over $17 million for that election cycle and ended the race with nearly $3 million on hand. Defense-related companies have donated $561 million to his campaigns over the course of his Senate career.