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With Days Left in the Race, Senate Hopeful MJ Hegar Appeals to Disenchanted Texas Republicans

MJ Hegar faces incumbent John Cornyn for his U.S. Senate seat.EXPAND
MJ Hegar faces incumbent John Cornyn for his U.S. Senate seat.
Courtesy photo

Only 6% of people who supported President Donald Trump in 2016 say they’re casting a vote for his Democratic opponent this Election Day, according to the Pew Research Center, but the Texas Democratic Party is still holding onto hope they can coax more elephants to leave Trump's political circus.

In a virtual press conference Wednesday, Democratic nominee MJ Hegar spoke with Texas conservatives who voted for her instead of incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Hegar, who voted for Cornyn in 2002 and 2008, revealed that she is also a Republican apostate.

“I remember my transition from Republican to realizing I was a Democrat, and it’s kind of a brave thing to face,” the decorated Air Force veteran said. “People have told me that it’s like changing religions.”

With just days left on the campaign trail, polls suggest it's doubtful Hegar’s Republican outreach will persuade other conservatives to follow suit. Some political science experts believe that although it’s an effective strategy, Texas could still be firmly rooted in its ruby-red ways.

During the Zoom call, Brazos County voter Murray Newman said that the Republican Party he grew up with “ceased to exist” following Trump’s 2016 election. Newman said he’s sick of watching the president embarrass the country, adding that Trump has led America “down a dangerous path.”

Cornyn has only done what Trump has commanded and hasn’t stood up to him a single time, Newman said.

“Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing,” he said.

“Time and again MJ Hegar has demonstrated that she is every bit the leader that John Cornyn is not,” Newman continued. “I want a senator who won’t back down, and MJ Hegar is exactly the type of leader that Texas needs and deserves. She’s a leader we can be proud of.”

During the call, Hegar spoke of her upbringing in a blue-collar family. Painting herself a moderate Democrat, she said it’s possible to support gun reform and the Second Amendment (she owns five firearms). It’s also feasible to protect national security on the southern border while treating immigrants with dignity, she said.

Hegar said she’s tired of people pandering to party leaders. She said she wants her kids to grow up in a world with the same opportunities that she had, while working toward equity for those less fortunate.

The American dream is still alive and well, she said, but there needs to be a level playing field for others.

“We want opportunity. We want people to stop trying to hold people down. We want them to breathe the air, drink the water, love whoever they want,” Hegar said with a laugh. “Just get the government the heck out of our personal lives.”

Cornyn is leading Hegar by 7.3%, according to a recent poll released by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. Although she’s no longer trailing by double-digits, nearly 18% of likely Texas voters reported they don’t know enough about Hegar to form an opinion of her.

One of the survey’s principal investigators, Rice University political science professor Mark Jones, said unless Republican voter turnout "simply craters," Cornyn is likely to win. Jones said it also doesn’t bode well that Hegar’s former primary opponent, Dallas state Sen. Royce West, refuses to endorse her.

But, Cornyn himself doesn’t have stellar name recognition, said professor Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, chair of the political science department at the University of North Texas. He said it’s striking that someone who has worked in the Senate since 2002 has remained so under-the-radar.

But what voters know about Cornyn’s stance on health care isn’t doing him any favors, especially during a pandemic, Eshbaugh-Soha said. Hegar is smart to pounce on the fact that Cornyn has voted to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act 20 times, he said.

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“I think some of these moderate Republicans who Hegar is reaching out to don’t trust Cornyn on health care, and there’s plenty of reason to understand that,” Eshbaugh-Soha said.

This isn’t the first Democratic event showcasing conservatives who say they’re displeased with the Republican Party. Last week, the Texas Democratic Party hosted a “Country Over Party” Zoom session including several "Never-Trump" conservatives. Defectors included former Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett and former Texas U.S. Rep. Alan Steelman.

Bartlett said Trump’s toxic tweets, lies and constant attacks have harmed American culture. Since becoming president, Trump has made the country more dangerous by alienating allies and embracing adversaries, he said.

“I think our country has just had enough,” Bartlett said. “Joe Biden, by contrast, is a man of great unifying ability.”

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