The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas between incumbent Republican John Cornyn and Democratic challenger MJ Hegar has attracted attention around the country, based on speculation that Texas is less solidly red this year than it has been before. Hegar, an Air Force combat veteran, also attracted attention back in 2018 when she came close to defeating a Republican incumbent in a Central Texas Congressional race.
Last week, Texas Standard spoke with Cornyn about his efforts to secure new coronavirus relief funding, and his opposition to the size of Democratic proposals. Hegar spoke to the Standard Wednesday to talk about her campaign, and the issues she wants to focus on in upcoming debates with Cornyn.
On why she continues to lag behind Cornyn in statewide polls:
Polling isn’t something that I really pay that much attention to, but there have been multiple polls showing us anywhere from one point down to three, to four, to six. So polling in Texas is kind of different because for so long we’ve been the 49th or 50th state in the nation for voter turnout, and you tend to poll reliable voters, people with a reliable voting history. So when twice as many people are showing up to the polls, half those people are not reflected in that polling.
On how she plans to sustain campaign spending, despite a fundraising disadvantage:
We’ve been able to raise enough that we went up on the air sooner than we thought we were going to be able to. So it doesn’t feel like we’re trying to sustain a campaign with so little. … Our momentum just ramped up significantly after we won the runoff. … I can’t release the amount [but] we’ve raised millions in the last two months alone.
On improving her name recognition:
The most recent numbers I saw were 67[% name recognition] for [Cornyn] and 57[%] for me. We’re pretty darn proud of that. There’s challengers across the country that are in the teens, and we still have some work to do, but we’ve got about four weeks now until early vote starts. I’m really excited about the debates because John Cornyn does not have a record he can run on.
On issues she plans to address in the first debate with Cornyn:
I’m really tired of politicians politicizing our health care, whether it’s the health care crisis that we had here in Texas before COVID-19, or the misinformation and the lies. And I have an opportunity to correct the record; I’m really looking forward to talking to Texans about his voting record. His voting record does not match the things that he says. That tells me that he says the things that he knows are popular, like protecting preexisting conditions. But then he turns around and votes 20 times to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without putting up any other plan to protect preexisting conditions.
Before the pandemic, we had nearly 1 out of 5 Texans without insurance. When I worked for five years in health care, I learned quickly that that was the cause of why we were shuttering so many rural hospitals. Given the fact that [the country has an] employer-provided health care model, now, because of the record unemployment, we have 1 out of 3 Texans aged 18 to 65 without access to health insurance.
On how being a veteran relates to her campaign:
Veterans don’t tend to like to talk about their service. It is something that goes against my gut, my personality – I want to talk about the issues. And early on, it was very clear that once people found out that I was a combat veteran, it did move the needle. I didn’t understand that until somebody a lot smarter than me pointed out that it’s because people are so tired of having politicians lie to them, having politicians serve their own self-interests. “Combat veteran” is shorthand for integrity and discipline and servant leadership and sacrifice, especially given that I used to fly with the rescue community, whose motto is “These things we do that others may live.” And I embodied that in my leadership when I took on the Department of Defense and the bureaucrats there to repeal the policy that was keeping 238,000 jobs closed to competition for women in the military. The Joint Chiefs unanimously wanted to repeal that policy. It was bad for our military, it was hurting recruiting and retention.
On whether there will be additional debates with Cornyn:
This is just another instance where his words don’t match his actions. He said he would love to do more debates and yet has completely squirmed out of committing to anything else. So we want to hold him accountable to his words. And we want to give Texas voters as many opportunities as possible to compare his vision for the state with my vision for the state.