MJ Hegar, the anointed choice of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, appears headed for a berth in a Democratic runoff for the seat held by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, according to results of a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Monday.


The survey suggests any one of a half-dozen other candidates — in a race in which most Democratic voters don’t know Hegar or any of her 11 rivals — could emerge from the March 3 primary as Hegar’s opponent in the May runoff.


Hegar, a decorated Air Force veteran from Round Rock, has the support of 22% of Democrats polled Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, doubling her mark in a Texas Lyceum poll conducted Jan. 10 to 19, even as her rivals’ numbers remained stuck in single digits.


Hegar’s surge came after a $3.3 million ad buy by VoteVets, a Democratic-friendly super PAC seeking to elect veterans to political office. The ad, "Fight of her Life," has been running on broadcast, cable and satellite for two weeks through Tuesday, the opening day of early voting.


VoteVets has previously made independent expenditures on behalf of two other Democratic primary candidates with military backgrounds who bear the imprimatur of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of Senate Democrats.


They are Cal Cunningham, a major in the Army reserves who is seeking to replace North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis, and Amy McGrath, a naval aviator and combat veteran who is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.


Pole position


"MJ Hegar seems to have established pole position in the race, though at this point she's nowhere near the 50% mark," said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT and co-director of the poll.


"Since no one is breaking out of the Democratic Senate primary, this seems unlikely to change in a way that avoids what is at this point an inevitable run-off," Henson said. "This is tough for the Democrats, who will have to wait that much longer — the run-off isn’t until May 26 — to focus on what is already an uphill battle against Republican incumbent John Cornyn."


Cornyn is hardly invincible, however. Seeking a fourth term and after decades as a statewide elected official, the poll found that 36% of Texas voters approve of the job he is doing, 39% disapprove, and 25% were not sure. He faces four lightly-funded political novices in the GOP primary.


Taking Cornyn’s seat could prove critical to Democrats’ ambitions to seize control of the Senate.


After Hegar comes Austin activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez at 9%, followed by former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston at 7%, and former at-large Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas at 6% each. Houston-area community organizer Sema Hernandez and Houston attorney and small-business owner Annie "Mamá" Garcia, formerly of Georgetown, each have 5% support.


The other five candidates have 2% or less support.


Little known


Even Hegar, the best-known candidate, was known to fewer than a third of the Democrats surveyed, 56% of whom initially expressed no preference in the race. The results came only after respondents who said they had not thought about it enough to have an opinion were asked, "If you had to make a choice, who would you choose?"


Even then, 28% named someone other than one of the 12 candidates, and 6% refused to give an answer.


"I think it's hard to get away from the fact that there are a whole lot of people that are going to make up their minds in the next couple of weeks," Henson said.


The internet survey of 1,200 registered voters has an overall margin of error of 2.83 percentage points, and a margin of error of 4.09 percentage points for Democratic trial ballots.


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