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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 CarterGOP's Carter fends off challenge in Texas Cook Political Report shifts 8 more House races toward Democrats Biden, Democrats see late opportunity in Texas MORE (R-Texas), announced Tuesday that she will challenge Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks 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 CastroDemocrats elect Meeks as first Black Foreign Affairs chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Battle heats up for House Foreign Affairs gavel 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 John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE carried the state by 9 points in 2016, down from Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him WaPo reporter says GOP has less incentive to go big on COVID-19 relief COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks 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 CruzSenate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration proceeds with rollback of bird protections despite objections | Trump banking proposal on fossil fuels sparks backlash from libertarians | EU 2019 greenhouse gas emissions down 24 percent 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 SchumerPelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms Trump supporters could hand Senate control to Democrats 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 SchumerPelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms Trump supporters could hand Senate control to Democrats 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.