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Round Rock “badass” MJ Hegar and three-term incumbent John Cornyn face each other—and the pandemic—in Senate race
When decorated combat veteran, Round Rock mom and self-described "badass" MJ Hegar and three-term Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn face off this November, the candidates will not only contend with each other but also the pandemic, President Donald Trump's reelection campaign and a news cycle that threatens to overshadow their race.
Hegar, whose only political experience is a failed run against U.S. Rep. John Carter in 2018, narrowly won the Democratic nomination for the Texas Senate seat in a runoff election against state Sen. Royce West in July.
This cost her campaign time and money. It now has around $1 million, compared to Cornyn's $14 million, and just a few months to get Hegar in front of voters—virtually—until the election.
Cornyn's campaign is confident, based on statements to the press, about his chances against "Hollywood Hegar," whom he has described as Elizabeth Warren on a motorcycle.
"She has less than four months to introduce herself to voters outside the Austin media market who've never heard of her," his campaign wrote in a July 15 press release.
Austonia reached out to Cornyn's senate and campaign offices multiple times for comment but did not receive a response.
Recent polls show Cornyn leading by one to 15 points, but Democrats believe the Senate race is winnable for many reasons: High turnout among Democratic voters in the July runoff election, Trump's flagging approval rating and a $1 million investment by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
MJ for Texas Deputy Communications Director Jake Lewis also pointed to a June poll in which more than a quarter of Texas voters were unable to answer whether they approve or disapprove of Cornyn.
"For a senior senator who's been in office for almost 20 years in the Senate, plus before that in Texas state government, his unknown numbers are really showing how failed of a leader he is," Lewis said.
Jim Henson, a professor of government and director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said Cornyn is considered the favorite in this race—but it's not a lock. "Certainly, this is shaping up to be a tough year for Republicans in Texas," he told Austonia.
(Sources: Federal Election Commission, Vote Smart)
Whoever wins this race will be responsible for helping usher Texas and the country out of the COVID-19 crisis.
For Henson, it's unclear how this will affect turnout. "You're kind of balancing two things," he said. "Will it drive down turnout, or will it also increase … people's interest in voting because they think the stakes are very high?"
Texas Democrats were heartened to see wide participation in the July primary runoff election—more than double the amount of voters who turned out in 2018—despite the pandemic.
"We look at that and see a level of enthusiasm and willingness to participate on the Democratic side that we haven't seen in Texas in literally decades," Texas Democrats Cornyn War Room spokesperson Billy Begala told Austonia. "We fully expected turnout to be suppressed."
Hegar's camp also believes her experience working as a program manager for Seton Healthcare Family, as well as her support for the Affordable Care Act, will resonate with voters.
"Every sector of the economy, every Texas is being affected by this pandemic," Lewis said. "But that is also making people more aware of the choice they have come November: Who is going to lead getting out of this mess?"
Cornyn's pandemic-response strategy is unclear. Last month, he was criticized for questioning whether children could catch and spread COVID-19. And on July 25, a weekly $600 unemployment benefit expired in Texas, leaving more than 1.6 million jobless residents in need of relief. While a spokesperson for Cornyn's office told the Texas Tribune that the senator supports extending unemployment assistance, the Senate recessed last week until mid-September without voting to approve a new relief package.
(Sources: John Cornyn for Senate, MJ for Texas, U.S. Senate)
Despite the pandemic and other critical policy issues, Henson said the November election will, "above all," be about Trump.
Republicans believe that the re-election effort will bolster candidates such as Cornyn.
"Beto O'Rourke lost in 2018. MJ Hegar will lose in 2020," RNC Regional Communications Director Samantha Cotten said in a statement to Austonia. "Democrats' dream of turning Texas blue will be shattered once again and it is little wonder as to why considering Democrats are actively campaigning on destroying the Second Amendment, the energy industry, and our cities by defunding our police."
But others see Cornyn's association with the president as a stress point.
"The president has had, in strictly political terms, a not particularly good year and is an erratic standard bearer," Henson said. "So if you are a Republican candidate in Texas, and your fate is hitched to the president's, it's a very anxiety-ridden ride."
Hegar also stands to benefit from the ground gained by Beto O'Rourke in his race against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. Although O'Rourke lost, the margin was much smaller than past races would have suggested, Henson said, and Democrats won other seats in the Texas Legislature and U.S. House. Since then, Democrats have also seen higher rates of voter registration than Republicans.
This is all evidence to support the notion that this race is competitive, Henson said, but Hegar still faces an uphill climb.
"There's a lot of other information in this political environment that it makes it hard for her to get her name and any messages she might have out," he said.
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Austin is on a rollercoaster that only goes up, according to the new U.S. Census Bureau data that says the city has been the fastest-growing large metropolitan area in the U.S. for a full 10 years.
The data, which was released on Tuesday, said the population between the five counties in the Austin metro area—Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell—increased by 3% since 2019 and 34% since 2010.
Austin still isn't the largest metro area but it does have the fastest population growth compared to other U.S. metro areas with over a million people. In the past decade, the metro population has gone from around 1.7 million to 2.3 million people.
The huge increase in Travis County alone is enough to bring the city closer to the leagues of other big cities, jumping above San Francisco and San Jose, California and Jacksonville, Florida in the ranks of most populous.
An increase of more than half a million people in the metro area puts it as the 29th largest, an increase of one spot from last year.
However, in terms of just population growth compared to last July, Austin was beaten by a few other Texas cities: Dallas ranked first in the U.S. with an increase of 119,748 and Houston took third, gaining 91,078. Austin ranked fourth with a growth spurt of 67,197, averaging out to 184 new people per day including natural increase, or the difference caused by births and deaths.
Overall, Texas gained the most residents out of all other U.S. states.
With companies like Tesla, which has promised to hire 10,000 people at the new Gigafactory, Oracle, Samsung and Google putting down roots in Austin and Texas tax breaks and lack of personal income tax, it's no surprise companies and people are flocking to the Lone Star State.
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This week, Austin FC Head Coach Josh Wolff returns to a team that has his name plastered on their stadium walls.
Wolff, Sporting Kansas City's fourth-place all-time scorer, is returning home to Kansas City, but this time, he's the opponent as Austin FC looks to up their win streak to three straight games.
The MLS is abuzz with Austin FC's quick rise in the standings—predicted to just maybe crack the playoffs, the club is already ninth in Week 4's MLS Power Rankings and fourth in the West. The club is coming off of a breakout 3-1 win over the Colorado Rapids and a slower-paced, but still decisive, victory over Minnesota United FC.
It's only the start, however. The club is facing a few injuries, and Wolff predicts that clubs are going to try to crack the league's golden team. "We want to play a certain way and some teams want to destroy that," Wolff said.
Here's what to expect for Austin FC's fourth-ever match on the road this weekend.
What to expect
A founding MLS member, Sporting KC has been around since they were the Sporting KC Wizards in 1995. They're not having the greatest start, however. KC has given up five goals and scored three so far, most notably losing 3-1 to an on-fire Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
The lone goal they scored was a doozy, though. KC's Khiry Shelton sent a smooth cross along the ground to Gianluca Busio, who, in a clever move, faked out on the pass and let it keep rolling. Kansas' leading striker, Alan Pulido, was there to score his first goal, and the play was completed in a matter of seconds.
Austin FC clearly needs to dismantle the chemistry between Pulido and team. Busio, especially, has been trying to create looks for the club. Kansas City is lacking some bite in their defense, however, and it looks like their back end is sometimes hesitant to go after the ball. Good news for Austin.
Could Austin FC get insights from KC vet Matt Besler, who will most likely join Wolff as a hall of famer after 12 seasons with the club? Wolff says maybe.
"I certainly expect Matt to give us some information, an inside scoop," Wolff said.
If the pattern continues, ATX might see more roughing up of Cecilio Dominguez, who has been targeted after his two-goal breakthrough against Colorado. They can also expect Kansas City and other clubs to start pressing higher up the field, bringing in more physicality and disrupting the club's offensive structure.
Projected starting lineup
Why fix something that isn't broken? Austin FC finally found their stride in midfield with the Holy Trinity of Alex "ringleader" Ring, repeat goal-scorer Diego Fagundez and Designated Player Toto Pochettino. No hate to Daniel Pereira, however. He could easily start too, but it seems as though the 20-year-old will have to wait for that Fagundez fire to burn out before he sees the starting pitch again.
Same goes for right wing. It's a good thing when a team has multiple players who could be on the starting XI, and Rodney Redes is no exception. He stood out in preseason and against LAFC and very nearly scored against both the Rapids and Minnesota, but Jared Stroud is proving a great strategist at the front of the field. He provided the cross that led to Fagundez' goal, and he's threatened goal with a few shots of his own.
Other than that, we can probably expect more of the same. Matt Besler is going head-to-head against his former teammates, and Zan Kolmanic is adjusting to the MLS after former starting left back Ben Sweat tore his ACL two matches ago.
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