Special election in TX06 douses Democrat hopes for House seat pick-up

A special election was held in Texas Saturday for the 6th Congressional District. Texas Democrats (and national Democrats) were hopeful that their party could successfully pick up the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Ron Wright, a Republican (pictured above). Just like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football, it looks as though the hopes of Democrats have once again been extinguished.

A run-off will be between Rep. Wright’s widow, Susan, who won the top spot in the run-off and state Rep. Jake Ellzey. A Democrat came in third place, though, and almost made the second spot in the run-off. As I write this, the second-place winner has not been officially called. Here is the breakdown for the top three:

(R) Susan Wright: 15,052 votes 19.21%
(R) Jake Ellzey: 10,851 votes 13.85%
(D) Jana Sanchez: 10,497 votes 13.30%

As you can see, Sanchez was very competitive. She is separated from Ellzey by less than a percentage point. She had the support of national Democrats, including the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

This race was interesting for a couple of reasons. It pitted a last-minute endorsement of Wright from former President Trump against the endorsement of Ellzey by Rick Perry, former Texas governor, and Trump cabinet member. Also, it continues a familiar competition between Ellzey and a candidate named Wright. Ellzey ran against Ron Wright in 2018. He was also the top fundraiser in this race. Trump endorsed Wright last Monday – the second-to-last day of early voting – and he participated in a tele-town hall for her Thursday night.

The 6th Congressional District covers all of Ellis and Navarro Counties, as well as southeastern Tarrant County. All but a sliver of the district is rural. The district covers three Northern Texas counties and little of the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan region around Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington. President Trump won the district in 2020 by only three percentage points, though the district has been reliably Republican since the 1980s. As a bit of history, the district was a Democrat one that turned Republican in 1983 when Phil Gramm was its representative in the House. His party switch turned the district red. So, the Democrats were really excited to see what kind of progress their party could make, hoping to turn the congressional seat to a Democrat one, thus giving Pelosi one more Democrat vote in a closely divided House of Representatives.

The field of candidates was a big one – 23 in all. There were 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, one Libertarian, and one independent. Voter turnout was low, as is the case in special elections, and no one received anywhere near the 50% +1 needed to avoid a run-off. The run-off will be between Susan Wright of Arlington and Jake Ellzey from Waxahachie. Ron Wright was elected to the House in 2018 and re-elected in 2020. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019 and died in February, the first sitting member of Congress to die due to complications from COVID-19.

Ron Wright won the district in 2020 by 9 points. Trump won it in 2020 by only 3 points. Democrats are hopeful that the district will turn blue, as they are in some statewide elections. So far, that hasn’t happened. Susan Wright is a longtime Republican activist. This run-off race will be another Wright – Ellzey competition. Ron Wright defeated Ellzey in 2018 and he defeated Democrat Jana Sanchez in that year’s general election. The special election race was seen as a barometer for Democrats. Democrats relied heavily on their base in Tarrant County. Tarrant County was won by Biden last November.

Wright, a member of the Texas Republican Party’s executive committee and a former district director for two state representatives, emerged as the frontrunner in the contest. But the race seemed to tighten in the final weeks as Ellzey gained momentum, partly because he represents a Texas House district within the congressional district that includes parts of Tarrant and all of Ellis and Navarro counties. He also has name recognition from his 2018 run against Ron Wright for the District 6 seat.

Ellzey was constantly attacked by the leadership of the anti-tax group called Club for Growth. They ran media ads casting Ellzey as being anti-Trump. Perry, the former governor, came to Ellzey’s defense and campaigned with him on the eve of the election.

“I weathered the storm and I did so successfully,” Ellzey said of the attacks against him.

Wright, backed by most of the Texas Republican establishment, was boosted by the endorsement of Trump, who touted her credentials in a tele-town hall meeting just days before the election.

Most of the GOP field referenced their support of former President Trump but one ran as a never-Trump candidate, perhaps in response to Democrat inroads into the district, and he barely received a blip in the election results. Michael Wood came in with 3.19% of the vote. Former HHS chief of staff during the Trump administration, Brian Harrison, received 10.81% of the vote. Former pro wrestler Dan Rodimer, who moved to Texas to run, only received 2.66%.

The race took a dark turn aimed at candidate Susan Wright.

On the day before the election, Wright made public scurrilous attacks made against her on automatic telephone calls to voters. The anonymous phone messages claimed that Wright murdered her husband by intentionally giving him COVID-19 in order to collect on an insurance policy.

Wright called the telephone messages “illegal, immoral and wrong.” She referred the matter to law enforcement officials.

The date of the runoff race has not yet been announced.

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