MJ Hegar says her military experience makes her the fighter Democrats need to take on John Cornyn

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“In Texas, foreign policy and national security is a kitchen-table issue because everyone has someone [they know] in uniform,” says MJ Hegar, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

On the same evening Iran fired at least a dozen missiles at an American base in Iraq last month, MJ Hegar was holding court at a meet-and-greet in Austin, fielding a question about U.S. forces’ killing of Qasem Soleimani, which prompted the attack.

Hegar, who served 12 years in the Air Force, held the crowd captive as she responded, invoking the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the hollowing out of the State Department by the Trump administration and the erosion of congressional war powers.

“I feel like the debate has become about whether or not the action should’ve taken place, and I think those of us with military leadership experience know that the result of the action is not the only thing that you judge it by,” she said. “I, with my military leadership experience, want to talk about the process on how we got here.”

Afterward, Hegar acknowledged foreign policy issues are not always front and center in state elections — but she argued that they should be.

“In Texas, foreign policy and national security is a kitchen-table issue because everyone has someone [they know] in uniform,” Hegar said in an interview. “We have a lot of bases, a lot of veterans, a lot of active duty, a lot of Guard and Reserve.”

Hegar believes her military experience has readied her for a fight to win the Democratic primary and then take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who is expected to easily win his own primary. She's battle tested — literally on the battlefield, but also through other challenges she faced as a woman serving her country.

As the primary has unfolded, Hegar has been almost exclusively focused on Cornyn, eager to paint a contrast between a staid career politician and an “ass-kicking” veteran and mother. But before she can get there, she has to get past March 3, when she is on the primary ballot with 11 other Democrats in a contest that remains deeply unsettled.