One Down, 4 Special Elections to Go

By Jim Ellis

March 26, 2021 — Though Rep-Elect Julia Letlow’s (R) victory in Louisiana last Saturday completed one special congressional election, four others are still in-cycle and fresh ballot test data was just released from the Texas seat.

Next up on the schedule is the LA-2 double-Democratic runoff between state Sens. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans) and Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) on April 24. Next, on May 1, voters in Texas’ 6th District will go to the polls to begin the replacement process for the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-Arlington). Replacing Biden cabinet members and ex-Reps. Deb Haaland and Marcia Fudge will occur on June 1 and Nov. 2, respectively, in New Mexico and Ohio.

As in Louisiana, the Texas race features the late incumbent’s widow running, but a new poll suggests that Susan Wright’s support is not as deep as Letlow’s in neighboring Louisiana. On Saturday, Letlow, whose late husband, Luke Letlow, passed away three weeks after he won the December 2020 runoff election, scored a landslide 65 percent outright victory over 11 opponents.

In the North Texas race, the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group recently surveyed the 6th District electorate for their client, candidate Lydia Bean (D), during the March 11-16 period and interviewed 500 likely special election voters.

While the results found Wright leading the pack of 23 candidates, she reached only 18 percent support but that was nine percentage points better than her closest opponent, 2018 Democratic congressional nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez.

Freshman state representative and 2018 Republican congressional candidate, Jake Ellzey (R-Waxahachie), the only sitting elected official in the massive candidate field, followed closely behind with eight percent support. Bean, a non-profit organization founder, and former George W. Bush White House aide Brian Harrison were next, posting six percent apiece.

The results suggest that Wright has a clear lead, her advantage is by no means insurmountable and, at this point in the special election cycle, the data is certainly pointing to a pair of candidates advancing into a runoff election.

Under Texas special election procedure, the governor does not schedule the secondary election until it is clear that the runoff is necessary, and the participants chosen. In this case, we won’t know the date of the next election after May 1. It is presumed, however, that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) will schedule the runoff in mid to late July.

The 6th District is one of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex seats where the politics looks to be changing. During the days that former Rep. Joe Barton (R) represented the district – a 34-year period from 1985 through the beginning of 2019 – the seat was safely Republican.

Wright, a former Barton District Director, Arlington City Councilman, and Tarrant County Tax Assessor, won the open seat in 2018, but with a reduced 53-45 percent margin over Sanchez. His sole re-election percentage was similar, 53-44 percent, over Democrat Stephen Daniel. This pattern of increased Democratic strength is evidenced in virtually all of the neighboring districts that are situated throughout the Metroplex.

In the last two 6th District races, Wright spent less than $1 million per campaign, and each time lost the dominant Tarrant County portion of the seat, which contains more than 70 percent of the district’s population base. Strong victories in Ellis and Navarro Counties propelled the former Tarrant County local official to a subdued but still relatively comfortable victory in both elections.

Of the five special elections being contested, the TX-6 race has the greatest chance of being competitive. A warning sign for the Democrats, however, is that they do not appear to have a clear-cut candidate who commands strong support.

Therefore, splitting the Democratic base vote among eight candidates, three of whom seem to be in the same support realm, could allow another Republican to slip into the runoff with Wright. Obviously, this would be the scenario that the national and state GOP leaders would hope to see.

Expect to see jockeying for position within the next four weeks with a breakout from the top tier candidates during the last week of April.

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