TX-31: Carter Moves from Solid Republican to Likely Republican

Texas GOP Rep. John Carter has never faced a competitive general election since winning his seat in 2002. The attorney former longtime county judge, now 76, has been a fixture in local politics for decades. But Austin's northern suburbs are moderating quickly. The 31st CD, which takes in Round Rock and part of Fort Hood, gave President Trump 53 percent in 2016 after giving Mitt Romney 60 percent in 2012.

Moreover, it's not every a Democratic nominee's life story may be on the verge of being made into a movie starring Angelina Jolie. Air Force veteran Mary Jennings "MJ" Hegar, 42, is a long shot, but her biography could give Carter problems.

Hegar, a search-and-rescue pilot, was awarded a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross for valor after her helicopter was shot down and ambushed in Afghanistan in 2009. Hegar subsequently wrote a successful book, "Shoot Like a Girl," and got tattoos to cover her shrapnel wounds. She also sued the Defense Department successfully to overturn a rule barring women from many combat positions.

Hegar won the May Democratic runoff with 62 percent and has raised $446,000, but a Hollywood-quality bio video her campaign released this week in coordination with the DCCC has the potential to make her a viral fundraising sensation. She'll highlight her barrier-breaking career, but will also emphasize to voters that she grew up the 31st CD and was a Republican in her youth.

This is still a very Republican district. At R+10, only one House Democrat represents a more Republican seat. In the March 2018 primary, Republicans in the 31st CD outvoted Democrats 53,000 to 31,000. 

But there are signs Carter might be less than prepared for a rigorous race. In the March GOP primary, Carter only took 65 percent of the vote against a conservative gadfly who spent less than $60,000 and attacked the incumbent as a tax-and-spend lawyer, a weak showing for a 15-year incumbent. And at the end of March, Carter only had $350,000 on hand, far less than most GOP colleagues.

Carter and Republicans will surely paint Hegar as a darling of Hollywood liberal elites, but will need to be careful to avoid appearing to attack her military service. Carter never served in uniform but will campaign on his advocacy for Fort Hood. A wave is the only circumstance a Democrat could ever win this district, but in 2018 it's not out of the question. The race moves from Solid Republican to Likely Republican.