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The facts behind a Texas Democrat's viral campaign ad

Screenshot from Mary Jennings Hegar's viral campaign ad. Screenshot from Mary Jennings Hegar's viral campaign ad.

Screenshot from Mary Jennings Hegar's viral campaign ad.

Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias June 28, 2018

Mary Jennings Hegar, a veteran, mom and Democratic candidate for the Congress in a deep red Texas district, made a splash when her campaign ad went viral. Hegar is challenging 15-year Republican incumbent John Carter.

Hegar’s video racked up 4.7 million views on Youtube and Facebook combined as of June 28, 2018.

The cinematic ad is aptly titled "Doors", and follows Hegar’s challenges, from when her abusive father threw her mother through a glass door, to her heroic stint on the Air Force, to when she kicked down the door barring women from serving in combat positions.

The highly produced spot even earned the acclaim of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the broadway star known for creating Hamilton.

"MJ, you made best political ad anyone’s ever seen," Miranda tweeted. "I should be asking YOU for help!"

We at PolitiFact wondered whether the facts in the video checked out as well. They largely do.

Before diving into Hegar’s accolades, we asked her campaign who produced the ad. The video was made by Cayce McCabe and Kevin McKeon at Putnam Partners, the political consulting firm behind the viral 2016 ad that showed a blindfolded Jason Kander, who was running for U.S. Senate in Missouri, assembling an assault rifle.

We’ll take the claims in the ad one-by-one.

"That got me a purple Heart, and I became the second woman ever awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor."

Hegar served three tours in Afghanistan as a pilot on Combat Search and Rescue as well as Medical Evacuation missions. In her third tour in 2009, she was shot down by the Taliban during a rescue mission of three American soldiers. Sustaining injuries, she managed to safely land her helicopter and escape aboard the skids of another.

Her rescue mission resulted in a Purple Heart for Hegar, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross, the oldest military aviation award. Hegar’s status as the second woman to ever receive the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor has been widely reported, but we were unable to trace the original source. Twelve women have received the Distinguished Flying Cross award so far, with Amelia Earhart as the first recipient.

"The bottom line is that there have been too few women recognized for their service," Christian Walker, Hegar’s campaign manager, told us.

Hegar wrote a memoir detailing these experiences titled Shoot Like a Girl, which is now being turned into a movie starring Angelina Jolie.

"But after that, the door closed. Injured and unable to fly, I was barred from my next career choice because I was a woman."

The Combat Exclusion Policy dates back to 1948, when women were barred from all combat positions. That was lifted for women flying in combat missions in 1993, but in 1994, the Defense Department formally excluded women from most ground combat positions.

Women were excluded from more than 238,000 positions, about one-fifth, across the Armed Forces as a result. In practice, however, many women did serve in combat roles, which subjected them to the risk while stripping them of credit -- and promotions -- for their service on the ground.

Because Hegar was in air combat, her service was recognized. But "I wouldn't have gotten credit for being in combat on the ground if I were a ground troop," she told NPR in March 2017,

So Hegar went to court. The American Civil Liberties Union represented her, three other servicewomen and the Service Women’s Action Network, a group that advocates for equality in the military, in a lawsuit against then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Thanks in part to mounting pressure brought by the high-profile lawsuit, Panetta and then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey lifted the ban in January 2013.

"The lawsuit remains open as a way for us to monitor integration, especially through a changing administration, and make sure that we don't take any steps backwards," Hegar told NPR.

"Apparently, being his (Carter’s) constituent and a veteran wasn’t enough to get a meeting. I guess I also needed to be a donor."

In addition to filing the lawsuit, Hegar lobbied Congress to get women into ground combat. In the ad, she recalls her own congressman and current incumbent Carter did not meet with her, and posited that money was the culprit.

Todd Olsen, a spokesman in Carter’s campaign, said Hegar’s claims that she requested to meet with Carter and that he refused to meet because she was not a donor were "absolutely untrue."

Olsen said Carter has a record of delivering for his constituents, citing the Veterans Transplant Coverage Act, which Carter introduced.

"Just recently from a meeting with a constituent who wanted to change the way government operated (Carter) worked with that constituent, with that constituent’s family, with the VA, with the Department of Defense, wrote a law, got it passed in a bipartisan way through the House and Senate and was signed on June 6 by the president."

Christian Walker, Hegar’s campaign manager, emphasized the word "guess" in the ad. Hegar met with Carter's staff in June 2013, but Carter was not present. The campaign did not provide evidence of Carter’s refusal to meet with Hegar.

"Congressman Carter hasn’t had a tough race his entire career. So, we’ll show him tough, and then we’ll show him the door."

Carter was elected in to Congress in 2002, following a competitive and packed Republican primary that led to a runoff and eventual breezy general election. Carter beat his Democratic opponent with 69 percent of the vote.

He has carried every race since by at least a 19 percentage point margin. In 2010, he beat his Democratic opponent by 65 percentage points.

The Cook Political Report has labeled the race Likely Republican.

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Our Sources

Youtube, Doors, June 20, 2018

Interview with Christian Walker, campaign manager for Hegar, June 27, 2018

Interview with Todd Olsen, spokesman for Carter, June 28, 2018

Air National Guard, Heroes recognized for lives saved, Nov. 9, 2011

Air National Guard, Airman Returns Home with a Purple Heart, Dec. 10, 2009

The New York Times, Pentagon Is Set to Lift Combat Ban for Women, Jan. 23, 2013

Washington Post, Four female service members sue over Pentagon’s combat-exclusion policy, Nov. 27, 2012

NPR, A Purple Heart Warrior Takes Aim At Military Inequality In 'Shoot Like A Girl', March 2, 2017

Variety, A Purple Heart Warrior Takes Aim At Military Inequality In 'Shoot Like A Girl', Sept. 30, 2016

New York times, Pentagon Is Set to Lift Combat Ban for Women, Jan. 24, 2013

Cook Political Report, 2018 House Race Ratings, June 20, 2018

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The facts behind a Texas Democrat's viral campaign ad