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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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Editor's note: Addie Broyles is a longtime food writer, who wrote for the Austin American-Statesman for 13 years. This piece was published in her weekly newsletter, "The Feminist Kitchen," where she shares stories about parenthood, grief, ancestry, self healing and creativity. Check it out here.
You know Bruce McCandless' most famous moment, but you probably don't know his name.
McCandless is the astronaut who, in 1984, became the first untethered astronaut in space. He's the guy on those posters, mugs, shirts and everything else NASA could sell with the image of his "leisurely waltz with eternity," as his son calls it in his new book, "Wonders All Around: The Incredible True Story of Astronaut Bruce McCandless II and the First Untethered Flight in Space."
'Wonders All Around' is a new book by Austinite Bruce McCandless III about his dad, the astronaut Bruce McCandless II. (Bruce McCandless III)
I met McCandless III, who lives in Austin with his wife Pati, for a coffee a few months ago, thanks to the introduction from a mutual friend. As we talked about losing our dads, being writers and parents and living in Austin while still dealing with COVID, his dad's famous flight didn't come up, but the process of writing such an epic biography of a complex, only recently passed man was something worth unpacking over coffee.
I hadn't read the book yet, but over the next few weeks, I got to know the McCandless family in such a sweet way that I wanted to write a little about the book here to perhaps inspire you to seek out a copy of "Wonders All Around."
As much as this is a book about space, it's also a book about grief. And persistence. And stoicism. And masculinity and maternality.
The elder McCandless died in 2017, just a few years after losing his wife, Bernice, to cancer.
This passing of the torch from father to son left the younger McCandless inspired to take on this decades-long narrative. McCandless III sets the tone for the book with a memory of the family sitting around the dinner table at their home outside Johnson Space Center near Houston in the mid 1970s, when his dad, who joined NASA in 1966 at the age of 28, wasn't sure he'd ever actually make it to space.
"Our dinners were somber affairs. We ate around a rectangular Formica table in the breakfast nook. Tracy and I sat on benches padded with orange vinyl cushions. Mom and Dad occupied faux-Spanish style chairs with green felt upholstery. Despite the informal, Howard Johnson's-at-the-airport feel of the furnishings, there was a tension in the air that set in right around the time the frozen string beans started steaming. I had the feeling that my sister and I had forgotten to do something important, though I couldn't figure out what it was, or that judgment had been rendered on us and we'd been found guilty of … something — again, it was unclear what. Horseplay was prohibited. The TV and all sources of music or other frivolity were turned off, and singing was strictly forbidden. The only sound came from the aquarium pump. My father had a 100-gallon tank along the wall behind his chair. Sometimes the big plecostomus would attach itself by its mouth to the glass facing us, and I imagined it sucking all the oxygen out of the room."
Imagining what it must have been like to require oxygen to survive, not in outer space but in the living room with your family, sets up the story of the McCandless ancestors, including a guy who was killed by Wild Bill Hickok and the author's grandfather, who was an admiral in the U.S. Navy.
No pressure, Bruce.
It was fascinating to read about the 18 years that Bruce McCandless II worked for NASA before he finally had his first flight, which debuted the Manned Maneuvering Unit, a jet-fueled backpack that he and Ed Whitsett Jr. spent so many years developing. (That's the joystick-controlled machine he's wearing in that mind-bending poster that hung on millions of Americans' walls over the following decade.)
The author McCandless has the unenviable task of trying to put into words what that flight must have felt like. His dad flew 150 feet away from the shuttle Challenger, which would, of course, break into a million little pieces just a few years later.
When President Reagan called the shuttle to congratulate the astronauts that day in 1984, the command center set up a demonstration space walk to give the president a live view of McCandless through the shuttle window.
Bruce McCandless II, trains with Kathy Sullivan, right, in preparation to launch the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA)
The only problem was, there wasn't much fuel left. McCandless went out anyway, trying to stay within 10-15 feet of the spacecraft. He got into position and turned off the unit to preserve propellant. After the president said a few words and the video switched off, McCandless turned on the unit and "looked for the closest piece of the orbiter, pointed at it, put the hand controller in +X (and) got a sort of sighing noise as it accelerated in that direction." He ran out of fuel just as he grabbed onto a rail on the orbiter. Hand over hand, he brought himself back to the donning station.
It's that kind of suspense that made this book so thrilling to read.
There's space tension like when McCandless is operating as CAPCOM, the only person talking to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin while they are walking on the surface of the moon, and his commander wants him to break protocol and call them back early, even though there are no signs of distress.
The book is also so touching. I cried while reading about the declining health of Bernice, who survived so many astronaut wife struggles over the years and at the end of her life remained a loving partner and mother.
Bruce McCandless was a Navy pilot who was picked to join NASA in 1966. His first space flight wasn't until 1984. (NASA)
It's easy to forget that McCandless II had an entirely other memorable historic moment—launching the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990—and this one seems to have struck an even deeper chord with McCandless III.
The Hubble launch was McCandless' second and final flight. He was 52 and had worked at NASA for 24 years.
McCandless II spends the last chapters of the book making a compelling case that his dad's work to fix and update the Hubble are among the greatest achievements to science. He continued to work on Hubble for another two decades after retiring from NASA through his work at Lockheed Martin.
Bruce McCandless, left, and the flight crew that launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. He was 52 years old. (NASA)
He was the "nuts, bolts, screws, and wires guy," the auto mechanic rather than the scientist, who kept the telescope going 340 miles above Earth for more than twice its life expectancy. The Hubble has been cited in more than 18,000 scientific papers and has revealed countless secrets and unsolved mysteries from around the universe and beyond.
"The size, shape, and sheer spectral weirdness of the images boggle the imagination and make prophets and dreamers of us all," McCandless writes toward the end of "Wonders All Around. "Some of us pay therapists to tell us we're important and unique. Then we check in with Hubble so the satellite can inform us just how galactically marginal we all are. The truth is somewhere in the middle."
What a beautiful reminder.
Austin FC looked to go 2-0 against the Colorado Rapids in their first-rematch since their breakthrough 3-1 victory in April. Instead, the club tallied yet another scoreless match at home as they lost 1-0 to the fourth-place team in the West.
Austin now sits at the bottom of the Western Conference for the second week in a row and have been shutout for 9 of their last 11 matches.
At first glance, Austin looked to have a fighting chance as they took the pitch with their healthiest lineup in weeks. With just four players on the bench and a late-game surprise appearance by left back Nick Lima, who now sports a mohawk, the club had potential to break a 225+ minute scoreless streak and notch their first back-to-back wins against a team.
Instead, the club started fast but finished slow. Austin tallied just two shots on goal to Colorado's 6 as the team continued to struggle to find an offensive identity.
Colorado's Andre Shinyashiki got past even goalkeeper Brad Stuver in the 29th minute of play to give the away team the lead. Austin was unable to bounce back in the match.
There's hope on the horizon, however: Austin's three new signees, including $6.4m striker Sebastian Driussi, are projected to join the team next week.
It's all about the Lone Star State for Austin FC next week as they compete against Texas teams Houston Dynamo at home on Wednesday and FC Dallas on the road on Saturday.
79' Nick Lima is back!
Nick Lima back at RB for the first time in weeks! https://t.co/eln9IFyoMB— Claire (@partain_claire) August 1, 2021
For the first time since a tumultuous June 24 match, right back Nick Lima is back on the pitch- this time with a new look. The defender subbed in for left back Zan Kolmanic sporting a new mohawk haircut in the 79th minute of play.
STUUUUUUUU 🗣 pic.twitter.com/tRRyGxTooK— Austin FC (@AustinFC) August 1, 2021
Brad Stuver gets the crowd yelling his name after blocking Rapids star Michael Barrios' shot with a solo save. Just after, Stuver gets his fingertips on another Barrios ball just in time to get it off track and out of the way. Either save could get Stuver on the MLS highlight reel for today's match.
40' Redes' run for goal is stymied
Redes gets his closest look of the game as he reaches the nearly-unmanned goal, but he takes a tumble just before he strikes. A ref decision says no penalty kick will be allowed, and Redes slowly rises back up with a bit of a limp.
Austin still hasn't managed to tie it up, but Cap. Alex Ring came close in the 36th minute with a header that flew just a bit too high.
29' Colorado strikes first
Austin has been near goal more often than any match in recent weeks, but it's Colorado's Andre Shinyashiki who scores first at Q2 Stadium. Austin's two defensive strongholds Matt Besler and Julio Cascante can't react quickly enough to break his stride as Shinyashiki wins over a 1v1 battle with Brad Stuver. Colorado leads for the first time in the two teams' history.
Perez gets first start for Austin
No new signees on the pitch tonight. Head coach Josh Wolff is mostly sticking to what he knows, with Manny Perez and Rodney Redes being the exception. Redes started last week against Seattle for the first time in weeks after scoring in a friendly vs. Tigres UANL of Liga MX, while Perez will have his first start with Austin tonight.
Will recent signees play tonight?
The club has stirred up new hope by signing Argentine Sebastian Driussi with their most expensive contract yet a month after another striker signing in Moussa Djitte. Austin also welcomed their first true hometown player just a day later as they signed Austinite McKinze Gaines.
Austin FC hopes to answer their scoring woes with the three players as they head into potential rivalry matches against fellow Texas teams Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas, but they might not hold any merit for Saturday's Colorado rematch. Djitte is MIA after receiving a contract in late June, and Driussi is still waiting for the go-ahead to play as he watches the match in Austin. Gaines may not have to travel far to play with the team, but it'll still be at least a few more days before he plays in front of his hometown crowd.
While all three signees aren't on tonight's roster, there's still plenty of buzz that could drum up more excitement on and off the pitch.
La Murga marches to McKalla
Austin FC fan band La Murga de Austin teamed up with supporters' groups Los Verdes and Austin Anthem as hundreds marched to Q2 Stadium two hours before the match. Hundreds of fans filed in, home opener style, to celebrate the upcoming match with brass, bass drums and plenty of fanfare.
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