Herman: Can viral video spur Central Texas congressional race upset?

June 28, 2018
Screen grab from Democratic U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar’s campaign video. (MJ Hegar campaign)

The early reviews are in, and they’re pretty darned good. I haven’t seen anybody hail it as the feel-good hit of the summer, but it is getting noticed as something of an instant classic in its genre.

“A war hero is running for Congress, and she just dropped one of 2018’s best political ads,” said the USA Today headline.

“Veteran-turned-congressional candidate draws attention for personal campaign ad,” said the ABC News headline.

Others raised The Only Question That Matters: “Can a viral campaign ad make the difference in deep-red Texas?” asked the Slate Magazine headline.

“Can a viral video propel MJ Hegar to a seat in Congress?” asked Forbes in a headline over a column in which John Baldoni wrote, “To call candidate MJ Hegar’s brand-new video one of the very best campaign commercials I have ever seen is to damn it with faint praise.”

There’s a chance you’ve never heard of Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, but, thanks to “Doors,” her compelling and multimillion-view campaign video and the news coverage of it, lots of Americans now have. She’s an Air Force vet with quite a story to tell. And the video tells it amazingly well.

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This statement on Hegar’s campaign website captures the image she hopes will get her into the U.S. House seat long held by Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

“My whole life has been about opening, pushing and sometimes kicking through every door in my way. What kind of Democrat is it going to take to win TX-31? An ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding, Texas Democrat. And that’s exactly the kind of Democrat I am,” she states.

So that’s the tone, and doors are the theme in the 3-minute, 28-second video paid for in part by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that’s targeted Hegar’s uphill race against Carter as doable.

The video is a captivating combination of message and technique. It’s all about doors, ones she’s gone through and ones that have been closed in her face. Watch it, see what you think. (And let me know if you, like me, think the background music calls to mind the signature riff in the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”)

The first door we see, apparently now displayed in her dining room, is the one Hegar says is from the Air Force helicopter she was piloting when it went down.

“It’s all that’s left of the helicopter that I was flying that day. I was on a rescue mission in Afghanistan as a combat search-and-rescue pilot. I heard the windshield crack and realized I’d been shot,” she says on the video, noting she continued the mission and airlifted the patients out prior to taking more fire and crashing.

“But my story begins much earlier. One of my first memories was another door. It was my dad throwing my mom through a glass one,” she says. “Three years later, mom got the courage to walk out the door. And she opened a new one for my sister and me here in Texas.”

The other doors in “Doors” include ones en route to her Air Force pilot dreams. “And that meant opening, pushing, sometimes kicking through every door that was in my way,” she says.

The doors that led to her congressional campaign involved her participation in the effort that led to the end of the ban on women in combat roles. The video portrays her appeals to D.C. lawmakers.

“But door after door was slammed in my face,” she says. “One of those closed doors was my congressman, tea party Republican John Carter. Apparently, being his constituent and a veteran wasn’t enough to get a meeting. I guess I also needed to be a donor. So now I’m running against him, taking on a system that cares more about campaign donors and political parties than protecting our country.”

FYI, Carter has claimed he did meet with her. She’s challenged him to produce evidence of that.

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The policy that barred women from combat duty was changed in 2013. In the video, Hegar says, “That opened the door for hundreds of thousands of women to compete for elite ground combat jobs.”

The kicker at the end of the video is a solid kick at the incumbent: “Congressman Carter hasn’t had a tough race his entire career. So we’ll show him tough. Then we’ll show him the door.”

Amanda Sherman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the Hegar-Carter race is on the committee’s “battlefield” because “there’s a path to victory there.” That’s why the committee helped pay for the video, she said.

“The video helps get MJ’s story out,” Sherman said. “It raises attention to a race that people probably hadn’t been watching in Texas. And now they’re watching.”

Yes, they are, including many who can’t vote in the race but could be moved to become Hegar donors. The reviews have been great, including this tweet — with three thumbs up — from Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Broadway’s “Hamilton”: “MJ, you made the best political ad anyone’s ever seen. I should be asking YOU for help!”

Hmm. “Hegar,” the Broadway show?