For Texas Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, 2020 hasn't turned out to be quite the reelection race that he had anticipated.
For Cornyn, 68, a former Texas Supreme Court justice-turned-Texas attorney general-turned U.S. senator in 2002, his election this year for a fourth six-year term is no longer the ho-hum operation of his first three.
His unlikely Democratic challenger is M.J. Hegar, 44, a decorated combat helicopter pilot and veteran of three tours in Afghanistan.
Then she turned around in 2020 and beat 10 other candidates in the Democratic primary to earn the right of challenging Cornyn. During the primary election, she was fortunate enough to be selected by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) as their pick for a candidate to receive some campaign money.
What makes the Texas senior senator a target for the tart-talking Hegar is not so much Cornyn's senate record by itself, but his record in the time of GOP President Donald Trump. Cornyn was a principal opponent of former Democratic President Barack Obama's ambitious Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare,” signed into law in March 2010.
One of its central features is its prohibition against denying patients insurance coverage for illnesses due to pre-existing health conditions. Cornyn had been one of the principal opponents to the Affordable Care Act, including the part about guaranteeing insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Cornyn might have been able to dodge some of the criticism for that had he not appeared to be a wimp when it came to differing with Trump. Cornyn's relationship with Trump, with whom he has voted with almost in lockstep while avoiding criticizing the controversial president, is now catching heat from Hegar and others.
And, during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cornyn has gone so far in recent weeks in his campaign ads and otherwise to tell people who are losing their private insurance health care that they have a refuge.
"Well, the good news is that if you lose your employer-provided coverage, which covers about 180 million Americans, that is a significant life event, which makes you then eligible to sign up for the Affordable Care Act -- and as you know, it has a sliding scale of subsidies up to 400% of poverty. So that's an option for people," Cornyn said. "The good news is people can find, get coverage under the Affordable Care Act or via Medicaid based on their income."
In his previous three senate races, Cornyn has easily prevailed in GOP primaries over multiple contenders, never close to being pushed into a runoff. And in general elections, he has also breezed through beating former Dallas Mayor and Texas Secretary of State Ron Kirk in 2002 by 12 points; former Houston State Rep. Rick Noriega in 2008, also by 12 points; and in 2014, David Alameel, owner of a Dallas dental company, by 27 points.
Hegar in recent weeks has drawn several million dollars from a variety of sources, allowing her to be a pretty constant presence on TV ads. Cornyn's situation has also been complicated by the fact that the president to whom he has been cozying up, or at least not getting into open fights with, has also reached the point in polls in normally Red Texas that he is running neck and neck with Democrat Joe Biden rather than leading by several points, which would normally be the case.
Cornyn himself is now leading Hegar in recent polls by single digits – five or six points. But as Trump's readings continue to decline, Cornyn seems to be suffering from Trump weighing him down.
Only days now.