(CN) – MJ Hegar, the Air Force combat veteran who nearly unseated a Texas Republican congressman in last year’s midterms, announced Tuesday that she will challenge U.S. Senator John Cornyn in 2020.
Hegar, 43, the first high-profile Texas Democrat to announce a Senate bid, came within 3 percentage points in her 2018 race against Congressman John Carter in a campaign bolstered by her introductory campaign ad that went viral and helped raise over $5 million.
San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro, twin brother of Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, has also expressed interest in challenging Cornyn but has yet to make an announcement.
“Washington still has a lot of listening to do and I’m going to make sure they hear us,” Hegar says in a video released Tuesday morning. “Texas deserves a Senator who represents our values: strength, courage, independence, putting Texas first.”
A former helicopter pilot and Purple Heart recipient, Hegar is author of the 2017 book, “Shoot Like a Girl,” in which she details her three tours of Afghanistan, where she flew more than 100 missions.
She says in her announcement video she was inspired to run for Congress after successfully challenging the Pentagon’s ground combat exclusion policy, which excluded women from certain positions and promotions and kept women from receiving the same combat training as their male counterparts.
“Weakness, partisanship, gridlock, those are not Texas values, John,” Hegar says her video. “But maybe you’ve been in Washington so long that you’ve forgot that.”
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa called Hegar “an American hero” who has been about service to her country her entire adult life.
“Texas is the biggest battleground state in 2020,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “It says a lot about John Cornyn that after decades as a statewide official, he is unpopular, vulnerable, and largely unknown. The Texas Democratic Party is proud that strong candidates like MJ are running and we will be ready to support our nominees.”
State party leaders earlier this month announced the creation of a “multi-million dollar Cornyn war room” that it hopes will help defeat the state’s senior senator, who has held the seat since 2002.
National Democrats have also been sharpening their focus on Texas ahead of 2020 in light of midterm gains seen as encouraging to party leaders.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced plans earlier this month to open a Texas headquarters that will target six House Republicans and help safeguard two seats flipped by Democrats in 2018.