Susan Wright, the widow of the late congressman, and fellow Republican Jake Ellzey are running first and second in the all-party special House election in Texas, which would lock Democrats out of the runoff and end their most promising chance to expand their House majority this year.
The Associated Press called a runoff spot for Wright late Saturday night, but Ellzey’s spot is still in question even with all precincts reporting their results. Ellzey, a state legislator, leads the third-place candidate, Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, by 0.4 percentage points — 354 votes. The AP has yet to call the second runoff slot.
Overall, Wright had 19.2 percent of the vote early Sunday morning to Ellzey’s 13.8 percent and Sanchez’s 13.4 percent. The fourth-place candidate, Republican Brian Harrison, a former Trump administration health official, trailed at 10.8 percent.
The scenario would put a quick end to Democrats’ hopes of challenging for the fast-diversifying 6th Congressional District outside Fort Worth. Democrats sensed opportunity in the district, one of many across the country where support for former President Donald Trump fell significantly between 2016 and 2020.
Trump carried the district by just 3 points in 2020 after winning it by 12 points four years earlier. The late GOP Rep. Ron Wright won his race by 9 points last year.
But there were multiple credible Democratic candidates in the race, including Sanchez, nonprofit leader Shawn Lassiter and 2020 state House candidate Lydia Bean. Bean trailed another Democrat, Tammy Allison, an attorney who raised less than $50,000 for the race by mid-April, far less than the other candidates.
And in an interview last month, Sanchez warned about a potential shutout, saying that it would set a discouraging tone for the Democratic Party going forward in 2021.
“Nothing could be a worse omen for the Democratic Party than to have a winnable district like this with two Republicans in the runoff,” Sanchez said, warning of a splintered vote. “That would be very embarrassing and very disheartening.”
Republican candidates captured 62 percent of the total vote in the all-party race, while Democratic candidates got 37 percent.
The low turnout and dropoff from recent election performance suggest that motivating their base will not come as easily for Democrats in post-Trump era elections, especially compared to the high-turnout, box-office special elections of the Trump years that drove engagement from Democrats nationwide and saw big overperformances in deep-red districts.
Now, with Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the Texas special election was a relatively quiet affair.
Susan Wright won a last-minute endorsement from Trump this week, a boost in a close race, while Ellzey represents a portion of the district in the state legislature. The Club for Growth has played an outsized role in the race so far and is likely to be very involved in the next stage, whether the race becomes a Republican-versus-Republican event or not.
The Club already unleashed a barrage of attacks painting Ellzey as an anti-Trump Republican, in large part because he has received a donation from Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator and Trump critic.
Then the Club endorsed Wright, and David McIntosh, the group’s president who has Trump’s ear, pressured him to do the same. Trump made a last-minute endorsement last Monday, backing Wright and then taping a tele-town hall event for her later that week.
Other notable candidates in the race finishes far back in the pack, including pro-wrestler Dan Rodimer, who ran for Congress in Nevada in 2020; former Trump official Sery Kim, who lost endorsements after making disparaging comments about Chinese immigrants; and Michael Wood, who ran as an anti-Trump Republican with the support of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). Wood and Rodimer had about 3 percent of the vote apiece, while Kim had 1 percent.