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Democrat MJ Hegar enters race against Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Hegar dismisses Cornyn as “that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — MJ Hegar, a tattooed former Air Force fighter pilot who nearly pulled off an upset against a veteran Republican Texas U.S. House member in 2018, now has her sights on a bigger target — U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

Hegar launched her campaign to unseat Cornyn in 2020 with a video in which she rides a motorcycle and lampoons the former Senator majority whip for his close relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

MJ Hegar announces her U.S. Senate bid

“He’s that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video,” Hegar said. “He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.”

Cornyn’s campaign fired back at Hegar, tweeting that she was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s “hand-picked candidate.”

“If elected, she will end all of the progress Texas has made by eliminating private healthcare, raising taxes and supporting late-term abortion,” the campaign tweeted, posting a quiz for its followers to judge how liberal Hegar is.

In 2018, Hegar, a political newcomer from Round Rock, lost by just 3 points to seven-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in the 31st District, based in Austin’s northern suburbs. Carter had carried the district by 22 points in 2016.

“I didn’t win that election, but we won something bigger,” Hegar said in her announcement video. “We helped change the status quo — new voices, new volunteers, new voters, standing up to demand better.”

WATCH: Hegar’s full announcement video

Hegar, 42, spent five years flying helicopters in the Air Force. While serving in Afghanistan in 2009, she was wounded when her helicopter was shot down by the Taliban, and she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After Hegar could no longer fly because of her injuries, she was barred by military policy from serving in other combat roles. She was part of a group of women who sued to overturn the policy, which was repealed in 2013.

Hegar launched her 2018 campaign with a video entitled “Doors,” in which she displayed her tattoos, some of which cover her war injuries. The video went viral, helping her raise more than $5 million for her race against Carter, nearly tripling his fundraising take.

Other Democrats are expected to join the Texas Senate race against Cornyn, including U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro from San Antonio.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Cornyn, 67, has represented Texas in the Senate since 2002 and served as the Senate majority whip, the chamber’s No. 2 position, from 2015 to 2019. He won his last re-election race in 2014 by 28 points.

While Cornyn had to face down a primary challenge in 2014, no Republicans have yet stepped forward to challenge him next year.

No Democrat has won a Senate race in Texas since 1988. However, after Beto O’Rourke nearly unseated U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, Democrats have made Cornyn one of their top targets for 2020.

O’Rourke decided to pursue the Democratic presidential nomination rather than taking on Cornyn.

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Democrat Beto O’Rourke kicks off his presidential campaign with rally in El Paso

O’Rourke says the powerful have “corrupted democracy” at the expense of the powerless

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Democrat Beto O’Rourke formally kicked off his 2020 president campaign with a speech to a hometown crowd in El Paso in which he called on Americans to show more compassion toward immigrants and take on an “unprecedented concentration of wealth and power” that he said has “corrupted our democracy.”

“This is our moment of truth, and we cannot be found wanting,” O’Rourke told supporters who crowded into a downtown street for the March 30 event. “The challenges before us are the greatest of our lifetimes.”

Beto O’Rourke formally kicks off campaign in El Paso (From KRGW via YouTube)

Among the challenges he cited were income inequality, access to health care and climate change. A recurring theme in O’Rourke’s speech was a call to take on powerful, wealthy interests, although he did not specify who those interests were or offer specifics of what he would do to counter them.

“For too long in this country, the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless,” he said. “Unrestrained money and influence has warped the priorities of this county. It has corrupted our democracy. It has invited the cynicism and distrust and disengagement of millions of are fellow Americans who see their very own government enthralled to those to can pay for access and for outcomes.”

In his extemporaneous speech, O’Rourke barely mentioned the man he hopes to displace, President Donald Trump, other than to accuse the president of sowing “fear and division.”

But O’Rourke, who represented a congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border for six years, drew a sharp distinction with Trump on the issue of immigration, saying immigrants and asylum seekers “are our fellow human beings who deserve to be treated like our fellow human beings.”

“We will find security not through walls, not through militarization. We will find security by focusing on our ports of entry that connect us to the rest of the world so we have a better idea of who and what is coming here,” O’Rouke said.

He also called for legal protection for young people brought into the country illegally by their parents and creating a pathway to citizenship “to bring millions more out of the shadows and on to a path to contribute their maximum potential to the success of this country.”

O’Rouke had announced his White House run via video in mid-March and made a series of appearances in the key early caucus state of Iowa. Saturday’s rally in El Paso, followed by similar rallies in Houston and Austin, marked the formal start of his campaign.

O’Rourke, 46 — whose given name is Robert but who goes by a childhood Spanish nickname, Beto — served three terms in the U.S. House representing metro El Paso before launching a campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2017.

Given little chance when the race began, O’Rourke’s campaign caught the imagination of liberal activists around the country, allowing him to raise more than $80 million and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.

In the end, Cruz won by 215,000 votes, but O’Rourke’s showing was the best by a Democrat in a Texas Senate race in 30 years. He decided to pass up the opportunity to take on Texas’s other Republican senator, John Cornyn, in 2020 in order to pursue a presidential bid.

After his initial announcement, O’Rourke raised more than $6 million in the first 24 hours. The quarterly reporting period for fundraising closed March 30, and O’Rourke is expected to lead the pack among Democratic 2020 contenders when fundraising figures are posted.

O’Rourke is the third Southern candidate to enter crowded 2020 Democratic field, following another Texan, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

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Former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running for Democratic presidential nomination

Campaign for White House launched four months after O’Rourke came up short in U.S. Senate race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Saying that the United States faces a “defining moment,” former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has announced he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, launching a national campaign just four months after losing a U.S. Senate race in Texas.

“The challenges that we face right now — the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate — have never been greater,” O’Rourke said in an announcement video posted on social media. “They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States.”

O’Rourke and wife Amy in announcement video
Click photo to watch video

O’Rourke, who raised more than $80 million dollars in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, promised to run “the greatest grassroots campaign this country has ever seen.”

“This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country,” he said.

In his announcement video, O’Rourke did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but he did draw a sharp contrast between himself and the president on Trump’s signature issue, immigration.

“If immigration is a problem, it is the best possible problem to have, and we should ensure that there are lawful paths to work, to be with family and to flee persecution,” he said.

Asked about O’Rourke’s announcement, Trump made light of the Texan’s propensity to use his hands as he speaks.

“I think he’s got a lot of hand hand movement. I’ve never seen so much hand movement,” Trump told reporters at the White House, “I said, ‘Is he crazy, or is that just the way he acts?'”

After posting his kickoff video, O’Rourke traveled to Iowa, which will hold the first caucuses in the 2020 election calendar. A formal campaign kickoff is scheduled for March 30 in his hometown of El Paso.

O’Rourke, 46 — whose given name is Robert but who goes by a childhood Spanish nickname, Beto — served three terms in the U.S. House representing metro El Paso before launching his campaign to unseat Cruz in 2017.

Given little chance when the race began, O’Rourke’s campaign caught the imagination of liberal activists around the country, allowing him to outraise Cruz and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.

Trump, who had a famously frosty relationship with Cruz when they competed for the White House in 2016, came to Texas to campaign for the senator as the race narrowed.

In the end, Cruz won by 215,000 votes, but O’Rourke’s showing was the best by a Democrat in a Texas Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke’s decision to pursue the presidency is good news for Texas’s other U.S. senator, Republican John Cornyn, who had already begin preparing for a challenge from O’Rourke in 2020.

O’Rourke is the third Southern candidate to enter crowded 2020 Democratic field, following another Texan, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

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Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman blames “deep state” for his indictment on corruption charges

Former Texas congressman accused of diverting charitable donations for personal use

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

HOUSTON (CFP) — Federal prosecutors are blaming former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman and an aide for an ongoing scheme to bilk $1.25 million from charitable foundations and divert it for personal use. But Stockman, in the dock, is blaming the “deep state” for his legal woes.

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas

Stockman, a Republican who served two stints in the House before losing a Senate primary in 2014, is facing charges of mail and wire fraud, money laundering, violating campaign finance laws, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and filing a false tax return with the IRS. The indictment was unsealed March 28.

After his initial court appearance, Stockman proclaimed his innocence and said the “deep state” was trying to exact revenge for his longtime opposition to the IRS as a congressman, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.

“This is part of a deep state that’s continuing to progress,” said Stockman, who was arrested at a Houston airport while trying to board a plane bound for the United Arab Emirates.

“Deep state” refers to a conspiracy theory that holds that unelected bureaucrats secretly run the U.S. government.

The indictment alleges that Stockman and an aide, Jason Posey, solicited donations from charitable foundations that they funneled to a web of non-profit groups they had set up, telling donors the funds would be used for “charitable and educational purposes.” Instead, the money was spent on personal expenses and to further Stockman’s political career, according to the indictment.

In all, $1.25 million in fraudulent donations were solicited between 2010 and 2014, according to the indictment.

Stockman, 60, was elected to Congress from a Houston-area district in 1994, on his third try. After two terms in the House, he left to make an unsuccessful bid for the Texas Railroad Commission in 1998.

He returned to Congress in 2013 but gave up his seat after a single term to make a primary run against Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

In that campaign, Stockman tried to make the case that Cornyn, as a member of the Republican Senate leadership, had abandoned his conservative principles. But Cornyn crushed him by 40 points.

According to the indictment, some of the money diverted from the charitable groups was used to help Stockman’s Senate bid.

Analysis: Midterms a show of woe for Southern Democrats

GOP has a particularly strong showing in the upper South, where Democrats have recently been competitive

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm

(CFP) — One look at a color-coded map of midterm election results in any Southern state tells the story – there’s a tsunami of red and a shrinking pool of blue.

Take Texas, for example, with its 254 counties. Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn carried 236 of them; the Republican candidate for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, carried 235. The only blue is found in Dallas, El Paso, Austin and along the Mexican border.

But that’s still more blue than in Oklahoma, where both Republican U.S. Senate candidates swept all 77 counties, and in West Virginia, where GOP Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito swept all 55, despite the fact that Democrats have a 350,000-person lead in voter registration.

A deeper look at the numbers from the midterm elections shows just how far Democrats have fallen from the halcyon days when they had an iron grip on the solid South. They’re not just losing; lately, they’re not even competitive.

And perhaps even more troubling for Democrats is the fact that the dam seems to have burst in states in the upper South, where the party had been holding its own at the state level.

This year, 13 of 14 Southern states — all but Florida — had a U.S. Senate election, and two states — Oklahoma and South Carolina — had two. Setting aside Louisiana, which is headed to a runoff, and Alabama, which Democrats didn’t even bother to contest, GOP candidates won by an average of nearly 21 points.

Democrats couldn’t crack 30 percent in either Oklahoma race. They failed to crack 40 percent in six others. In fact, Republicans won by double digits in 10 races. Only Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina were close, with the GOP taking the latter two.

Things were just about as bad in races for governor, where the GOP margin of victory was about 18 percent. Republicans won by double digits in six of the eight governor’s races. Only Florida and Georgia were even remotely close.

The news was particularly bad for Democrats in three upper South states that were politically competitive a decade ago – West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee.

In West Virginia, Democrats not only lost the U.S. Senate race, but they lost all three U.S. House seats, and Republicans took control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.

With Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor’s loss, Arkansas will have an all-Republican congressional delegation for the first time since Reconstruction. Heading into the election, Democrats held five out of the seven statewide constitutional officers. In the midterm, they lost all seven.

Tennessee used to be split between Republicans in the east and Democrats in the west. Now, the GOP is winning everywhere, holding seven of the state’s nine U.S. House seats. Both Alexander and Governor Bill Haslam, re-elected with 71 percent of the vote, carried Shelby County, which includes the Democratic bastion of Memphis.

Increasingly, Democrats seem to be doing better in the deep South, where they can rely on the support of black voters, than in the upper South, where black populations are smaller.

For example, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, despite being a long-time incumbent in a very red state, won by a smaller margin than did Republican Tom Cotton, who beat Pryor like a rug in Arkansas.

Some might attribute Graham’s narrower margin to his Tea Party problems. But Alexander — who faced a similar Tea Party dynamic — managed to win by 30 points in Tennessee.

What is clear from the midterms is that despite recent gains at the presidential level in states such as North Carolina and Virginia, Democrats are becoming less competitive across the region, and the South is becoming more monolithically red.

Indeed, the midterm results support the argument that in most of the South, the two-party system is becoming a relic of the past.

Analysis: Southern Senate races expose fault line that GOP must correct

Incumbents’ weak victories show bitter primaries have become the new normal

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states ttankTea Party-backed insurgents struck out in their quest to unseat sitting Southern Republican U.S. senators this year, with a final tally of 0-for-5.

Mugshot CFPBut while those results are arguably a significant victory for the powers that be in the GOP, a closer look at the results shows a deep and potentially problematic fault line running right through the party. And the rancor and contention generated by the establishment’s aggressive push back against the Tea Party has made that fault line wider.

Historically, sitting senators rarely face much of a battle for renomination. If they have any opposition at all, it is usually dispatched with an easy majority of 70 or 80 percent. While that is still largely true for Democrats, for Republicans — in the South and elsewhere — bitter primary contests seem to have become the new normal. True, all the incumbents survived this year. But they didn’t exactly set the world on fire.

In Tennessee, Lamar Alexander — a well-respected former Cabinet secretary and university president who has won statewide office four times — could only manage a meager 50 percent, while in Mississippi, Thad Cochran was dragged into a runoff that he only survived with the help of Democrats.

John Cornyn in Texas and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina did a bit better (59 percent and 56 percent, respectively), but they should be thankful that their opposition was as weak as it was. If bigger names had gotten into either of these races, the outcome might have been very different.

The Southern GOP senator who performed the best was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who took 60 percent in his race, despite an avalanche of outside help given to his opponent, Matt Bevin. But that brutish primary did nothing to help McConnell’s prospects in a tough race this fall with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Ludergan Grimes.

What these races, collectively, show is that 40 percent or more of the Republican primary electorate is unhappy enough with their own elected leaders that they are prepared to vote them out — even if that means nominating little known candidates who, in many cases, seem less than fit to sit in the Senate.

For the time being, the GOP might be able to ignore this fault line because there is little indication, except perhaps in Kentucky, that Democrats will be able to take advantage of the Republican schism to flip seats in November.

But if Republicans can’t figure out a way to avoid this internal warfare, Democrats are eventually going to figure out a way to use it to their advantage. And that presents a real and present danger to the political hegemony that the GOP has built in the South.

Yes, 2014 was a victory for the establishment. But it was also a danger-Will-Robinson moment. And the bitterness left over from these primary fights has probably made the divisions within the party even worse, particularly in Mississippi.

Few of those Tea Party Republicans who feel scorned by their party are going to vote Democratic in November, but more than a few may stay home. Is this hemorrhage from the base likely to imperil these sitting Southern senators? No, except maybe for McConnell. But if the establishment can’t find a way to bridge this divide, there is certainly potential for trouble ahead.

Analysis: Tea Party Senate challengers can take comfort from Texas

U.S. Senator John Cornyn’s weak margin of victory shows other incumbents might be vulnerable

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states ttankThe good news for the other four Republican U.S. senators facing Tea Party challenges this year is that Senator John Cornyn won in Texas.

The bad news? Cornyn’s win was hardly impressive.ME sm

Facing a primary field that was, to be charitable, less than viable, Cornyn failed to clear 60 percent of the vote. More than four in 10 Texas voters in his own party wanted somebody — anybody — else.

Compare that result with the Republican primary race for governor, where Attorney General Greg Abbott swept almost 92 percent of the vote against three challengers.

Cornyn’s chief Tea Party challenger, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, jumped in at the last minute and ran an erratic campaign. That allowed Cornyn to survive.

But imagine what might have happened if a stronger Tea Party competitor had run. No doubt some Texas conservatives who passed on this race are now kicking themselves over what might have been.

Cornyn was a Tea Party target because he is the minority whip in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also facing a primary challenge from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, who, unlike Stockman, is raising money and has the backing of outside conservative groups.

If the unhappiness with Cornyn seen in Texas is duplicated in Kentucky, McConnell could be in trouble.

Likewise, Senators Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Lamar Alexander in Tennessee and Thad Cochran in Mississippi all face Tea Party challengers.

Alexander and Graham seem to be holding their own. Cochran, on the other hand, faces State Senator Chris McDaniel, who is also getting a boost from outside conservative groups, which sat on the sidelines in Texas.

And in addition to races with incumbents, the preferred GOP establishment candidates for seats in North Carolina, Louisiana and West Virginia are also battling Tea Party challengers. In Georgia, there’s a free-for-all among five major candidates, at least two of whom are expected to draw from the Tea Party part of the party.

Now that he’s survived the primary, Cornyn is the prohibitive favorite to win the general election. But if Tea Party challengers win in any of the other states where they have a shot, Democrats will be waiting in the wings.

That is causing heartburn in the GOP establishment. Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said as much when he opined recently that a McDaniel win in the Magnolia State could open the door for a Democrat.

Cornyn’s tepid showing in Texas isn’t making that heartburn any better.

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