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Another look at MJ Hegar

Lots of this is stuff we’ve seen before, but there are a couple of points worth mentioning.

MJ Hegar

Flipping a conservative stronghold like Texas’ 31st Congressional District, centered on Round Rock, would qualify as the high-water mark of any “blue wave” that Democrats hope will win them control of the U.S. House.

But Republicans say they are not panicking. Despite Hegar’s impressive military credentials and fundraising prowess — attributable in no small part to the video that propelled her from obscurity — they believe they have a near lock on a district that Carter won in the last election by more than 21 points.

President Donald Trump, by comparison, won the district by 14 points, suggesting that Carter’s fate does not hinge on the controversial leader of the Republican Party.

“He’s not taking anything for granted,” said Carter campaign spokesman Bruce Harvie. “But the voters know him and the voters trust him in this district. So we feel like we’re in a very good place.”

[…]

Whether Hegar opens any new doors remains to be seen, but she has already helped cast Texas in a slightly different light around the nation. Once seen as a uniformly Republican redoubt, the state is seeing spirited Democratic challenges in the 2018 U.S. Senate race and at least three Republican-held congressional districts that Clinton won in 2016.

“We told people they should run everywhere,” [Crystal Perkins, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party] said. “We didn’t know what would come on to the map” of competitive districts. “And this is considered pretty much the center of Texas — red territory.”

Trump actually carried CD31 by 12.5 points, not 14, though it was more like a 20-point Republican district downballot. MJ Hegar is a fantastic candidate who has raised a ton of money, but the numbers are what they are. I think it’s reasonable to posit that Hegar can run ahead of the Democratic baseline, but that’s a tall order. Of course, if the overall environment is sufficiently friendly to Dems, then that makes her task more doable. It also likely means she’ll have more company as a Democratic freshman from Texas.

That story was from a few days ago, and since then we also got this story in the Trib, which is more focused on the incumbent Rep. John Carter, but which serves as a good companion piece for this:

There are a few reasons some in GOP circles fear a perfect storm is brewing against Carter. Perhaps the one quietly discussed the most is that the mechanics, fundraising and tactics of modern campaigning have changed dramatically since his first successful run more than 15 years ago and he hasn’t kept up. Also, Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s spirited bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is beginning to spook Republicans about how a potential surge in Democratic turnout might impact down-ballot races just like Carter’s.

The shifting demographics of this district — particularly in suburban Williamson County — are also raising some alarm bells. While still considered a Republican district, it was redder when Republican officials drew its lines seven years ago. If a Democratic midterm wave sweeping across the country did reach Central Texas, could the district possibly flip?

Sources close to Carter counter he has done the on-the-ground constituent work for years to inoculate himself from a serious threat, and he and his team are quick to tout a recent piece of legislation he moved through Congress to assist veterans with organ donations. But Hegar has noted that Carter hasn’t held an in-person town hall in years.

In Washington, GOP operatives focused on the national map and keeping the House in Republican hands view Hegar’s bid as a long-shot. Two other Democratic campaigns in Texas – Collin Allred’s bid against U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and Lizzie Panill Fletcher’s campaign against U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston – are more immediate concerns.

But national strategists say they are closely monitoring CD-31 to see if Hegar’s advertising begins to move polling numbers.

You better believe I’ll be on the lookout for any polling data for this race. There was a poll done last November that suggested a 46-40 race, but that was a long time ago. The key thing here is that CD31 is not like some other districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton. Trump still won it by twelve points, and he was the low achiever. The gap here is big, or at least it starts out that way.

As such, it’s possible that Hegar can greatly outperform the Democratic baseline and still fall short. Certainly if she wins, but even if she comes close, Hegar has a legitimate chance to be a star. She already is to an extent thanks to her now-iconic campaign video, but winning or exceeding expectations would elevate her higher. What might that mean? Well, someone’s gotta run against John Cornyn in 2020; that might actually be an easier leap if she loses, since she wouldn’t be giving anything up. I’m just spitballing here. Let’s see how she does in this race, then we can speculate about the future.

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