Texas voters decide between two Republicans — one Trump-endorsed — in House special election
By David Weigel,
Jake Ellzey for Congress
Voters in North Texas will test the power of Donald Trump’s endorsement Tuesday, as they choose in a special House election between a conservative state legislator and the Trump-backed widow of their most recent member of Congress.
“I know her well,” the former president said during a Tuesday evening telerally with Susan Wright, whom he endorsed after her husband, Rep. Ron Wright, died in February, weeks after he contracted the coronavirus. “She will be as tough as anyone in Congress.”
Trump told supporters that Wright would fully oppose President Biden’s agenda and blamed his successor for higher gas prices and increased border apprehensions. He did not mention state Rep. Jake Ellzey, the former Air Force fighter pilot who is making his second run for the seat — he lost to Ron Wright in 2018 — and has raised nearly three times as much money as Susan Wright.
Wright closed by reminding voters that she was Trump’s choice. “I look forward to working on your ‘America First’ agenda in Congress,” Wright told Trump on Monday’s call.
Wright finished first in the May 1 all-party primary, with 19 percent of the vote to Ellzey’s nearly 14 percent. Yet early voting for the runoff found soft turnout in the most suburban part of the district, which stretches from the Dallas and Fort Worth metroplex into smaller towns in more conservative areas, which could benefit Ellzey.
Both the Club for Growth and a Trump-linked PAC have been airing ads on Wright’s behalf. Wright has been less visible than her outside allies, making few public appearances during the 12-week runoff.
“She’s run a terrible campaign,” said former congressman Joe L. Barton, who represented the seat before Ron Wright and endorsed Ellzey in the runoff. “Jake Ellzey is a good person. He voted for Trump. There is no reason for a conservative group to go after him like this. He’s the real deal.”
A first-time candidate who had worked with her late husband behind the scenes, Wright declined to debate Ellzey and was absent from the sort of conservative media outlets that Trump-aligned candidates use to reach national audiences.
Requests for comment from Wright and her campaign were not answered.
The Washington Post
Susan Wright, a candidate for Texas’s 6th District, at her home office earlier this year in Arlington, Tex.
“You’re outraising her by a lot of money,” Newsmax host and former Trump White House press secretary Sean Spicer told Ellzey on Friday, noting that Wright had turned down Newsmax’s interview requests. “You wanted to debate and she wouldn’t do it.”
Ellzey confirmed that, adding that Wright had appeared with him at forums where questions were provided in advance, questioning whether his opponent was ready for the pressures of Congress.
Wright and Ellzey had no significant policy differences, which helped turn Trump’s endorsement into the race’s defining issue. The Club for Growth, which had spent heavily against Ellzey during his 2018 run, blitzed voters with TV and mail advertisements, while Ellzey was often in Austin for special sessions, scheduling campaign events around them.
“Having the opportunity for the voters to see what my conservative values are on issues is more of an advantage than a disadvantage,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Pro-Wright materials touted her pledge never to raise taxes; anti-Ellzey material attacked him for missing some votes in Austin, for backing a change to the state’s car tax and for having donors — like the Club itself — who had attacked Trump in 2016. Ellzey’s campaign focused more on his military biography, largely ignoring Wright, and emphasized Ellzey’s support of Trump.
“The good people in this district [are] worried about a border that is a humanitarian and national security disaster, a military that is a national security disaster, more worried about being ‘woke’ than being effective, and a budget that’s not balanced,” Ellzey told Newsmax on Friday.
Internal polling released by Wright’s campaign last week put her ahead of Ellzey, though the first-time candidate had lost ground since its first polling in June. Democrats were locked out of the runoff, and neither Republican has campaigned for their votes.
Both Ellzey and Wright said there were legitimate questions about the 2020 election, and both suggested they would vote consistently with Republican leadership. But Trump’s endorsement had an effect. Jana Lynne Sanchez, the Democrat who placed third in the primary, said that “most” of her friends, if they were voting at all, were casting anti-Wright protest votes.
“Democrats have two choices: Stay home or vote against Trump,” Sanchez said.
Turnout in the early-voting period was light, with fewer than 8,500 ballots cast, and just 1 in 5 coming from Democrats. Voting was also lighter in Tarrant County, the district’s biggest population center, where municipal elections had helped primary turnout.
While Wright largely disappeared during the runoff, Ellzey held rallies where his supporters vented their irritation at the PAC ads. After stumping for Ellzey, former governor Rick Perry told the Dallas Morning News that the former president “had been fed a bill of goods” about the race, and said he had told Trump so.
“I think he recognizes it to some degree,” Perry added.