By Jim Ellis
May 3, 2021 — The special jungle primary to begin the process of replacing the late Texas Rep. Ron Wright (R-Arlington) began Saturday as 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, a Libertarian, and an Independent scratched and clawed to obtain one of the two available runoff positions.
With 23 candidates on the ballot and nobody even reaching 30 percent in published polling, there was virtually no chance any of these contenders win outright with a majority vote. Therefore, a secondary election between the top two finishers will be called as soon as the vote totals are made official. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) then will schedule the special runoff election for what appears to be a period in late June.
The candidate attracting the most attention is the late congressman’s wife, Susan Wright (R). She scored a major endorsement last week as former President Donald Trump announced his support for her candidacy. The Trump move was a major blow to candidate Brian Harrison (R), who is a former official in the Trump Administration’s Health and Human Services Department and an ex-White House aide to then-President George W. Bush.
Wright garnered 19.2 percent of the vote Saturday, which was enough to give her a first-place finish.
Aside from Wright and Harrison, who finished a distant fourth with 10.8 percent of the vote, the other significant Republican candidate is freshman state Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-Waxahachie). He ran for the congressional seat in 2018 when Rep. Wright was first elected, forcing him into a runoff and losing just 52-48 percent to the eventual general election winner.
Just as he did then, Ellzey finished second, with 13.8 percent of the vote. Wright and Ellzey both will advance to the runoff, likely in late June.
Recently, both the Club for Growth and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have come out opposing Ellzey’s candidacy, with the former launching an opposition independent expenditure.
For the Democrats, 2018 congressional nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez, who held Rep. Wright to a 53-45 percent win appeared to be the party’s top candidate in this massive field. The odds looked good for Sanchez to land one of the two runoff positions, but her efforts to unite the party base and inspire a large Democratic turnout fell short. Her main Democratic competition came from school district official Shawn Lassiter and businesswoman Lydia Bean. If they were to perform better than expected, enough votes could be drawn away from Sanchez to allow Republicans to capture both runoff positions. Sanchez garnered 13.4 percent of the vote, Lassiter 8.9 percent, and Bean 3.7 percent for a tally of 26 percent of the vote.
Polling has been sparse, but inside sources indicate that most private polling tracks with what we’ve seen in the public domain. That is, Wright leading the pack in the 20s, with Sanchez in second place several points behind. One ancillary poll released locally actually projected Sanchez running first, but a later survey that the Sanchez campaign itself released had her placing second to Wright.
On the fundraising front, neither Wright nor Sanchez, the two perceived race leaders, were among the top four in fundraising. The candidate with the most resources was Harrison at just over $647,000 raised through the April 11 pre-primary filing deadline. Rep. Ellzey ($503,000-plus raised), Republican Dan Rodimer who ran for Congress in Nevada last year ($337,000-plus), and Lassiter ($322,000-plus) have all accumulated more money than both Sanchez ($299,000-plus) and Wright ($286,000-plus).
With such a crowded field in what is typically a low turnout state for special elections, was virtually certain that anything could have happened Saturday. The betting favored a Wright-Sanchez runoff, but certainly an upset finish remained a viable possibility.
Texas’ 6th District includes the southeast portion of Tarrant County and rural Ellis and Navarro Counties. In his two winning elections, Rep. Wright failed to carry the dominant Tarrant County portion of the district, relying instead on huge percentages coming from both rural counties to win his elections in the 8-9 point range. Prior to Rep. Wright winning the seat, retired Rep. Joe Barton (R) represented the 6th District for 34 consecutive years.