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MJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid

MJ Hegar, the Air Force veteran who narrowly lost a 2018 House bid against Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterBottom line READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE (R-Texas), announced Tuesday that she will challenge Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Biden gets involved to help break Senate logjam Overnight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels MORE (R-Texas) for his seat in 2020.

“Texans deserve a senator who represents our values: strength, courage, independence, putting Texas first,” Hegar said in a video announcing her Senate bid that included a cameo appearance by comedian Patton Oswalt.

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Hegar’s entrance into the race sets up the potential for a bruising Democratic primary.

Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroWhy paid internships matter for foreign policy careers State Department establishes chief officer in charge of diversity Texas governor faces criticism over handling of winter storm fallout MORE (D-Texas) is also seriously considering a Senate run in 2020, and, like Hegar, has prominent Democrats backing him.

Democrats have long eyed Texas as a potential battleground, pointing to signs that the longtime reliably red state has begun to trend toward flipping to blue in recent years.

President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout MORE carried the state by 9 points in 2016, down from Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocratic centrists flex power on Biden legislation Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Romney's TRUST Act is a Trojan Horse to cut seniors' benefits MORE’s nearly 16-point win in 2012.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) 2-point loss to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Cruz puts hold on Biden's CIA nominee It will be Vice (or) President Harris against Gov. DeSantis in 2024 — bet on it Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants MORE (R-Texas) last year energized the Democratic Party even further, prompting them to set their sights on Cornyn, the former Senate majority whip.

Hegar’s Senate announcement has been in the works for weeks.

After O’Rourke, who is now running for the Democratic presidential nomination, announced that he would not mount a bid for Senate in 2020, Hegar met with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Ron Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor MORE (D-N.Y.), a strong sign that she was considering a challenge to Cornyn.

And just this week, Hegar posted a since-deleted tweet that included a photo of Cornyn’s Senate office.

Hegar became a top-tier contender for the Senate after she came within 3 points of ousting Carter in Texas's 31st District last year — a district that Trump carried by nearly 13 points in 2016.

Republicans immediately took aim at Hegar, denouncing her as Schumer’s hand-picked candidate.

“New York liberal Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Ron Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor MORE found his chosen candidate in MJ Hegar,” Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said. “Hollywood Hegar’s support for late-term abortion and government-run health care will play better with progressive Hollywood celebrities than with mainstream Texans.”

Cornyn’s campaign manager, John Jackson, suggested that Hegar’s announcement was a sign that Schumer had managed to shut down Castro’s Senate ambitions.

“It appears Chuck Schumer was able to push Joaquin Castro out of the race, and we’ll see if he has the same success with Councilwoman Edwards,” he said, referring to Amanda Edwards, a Houston city council member who is also considering a run for the Senate seat.

--Updated at 10:49 a.m.