By Jim EllisFeb. 24, 2021 — The Texas Tribune newspaper broke the story this week that Susan Wright, widow of deceased Congressman Ron Wright (R-TX), will announce her candidacy as soon as this week for the yet unscheduled special election to succeed her late husband.
Ms. Wright will be the second recent widow running this year. Rep-Elect Luke Letlow’s death has led to a March 20 Louisiana special election in that state’s northeastern 5th District. Julia Letlow (R), the late-congressman-elect’s wife, is a candidate in that race and the favorite to prevail.
In US history, 39 widows have succeeded their late husbands in the House, and another eight in the Senate. One such widow, Doris Matsui (D-CA), is currently serving her ninth congressional term.
A large Republican potential field of candidates was thought to be building for the Texas special election, but with Susan Wright’s intention on becoming a candidate, that may block some of the local officials from the race. Freshman state Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-Waxahachie), who opposed Mr. Wright in the 2018 election and forced him into a runoff, and Katrina Pierson, the former Trump campaign spokeswoman, remain likely candidates, however.
At least two Democrats, 2018 congressional nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez and school district official Shawn Lassiter, have announced their candidacies and both are likely to remain in the race. The 2020 party nominee, Stephen Daniel, has also not ruled out running.
Now that the congressman has been laid to rest, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) will schedule the special election. The most likely date will be May 1st, in order to conform with the Uniform Election Day, which hosts local elections from around the state. All 6th District candidates will be on the same ballot and if any one candidate receives majority support, that individual will be elected outright. Otherwise, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff election that will be part of Abbott’s scheduling pronouncement. Assuming a May 1 special election, the secondary runoff would occur in late June or early July.
The special could be competitive. The 6th District is another of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex congressional seats that was drawn as a Republican CD but is becoming purple.
Mr. Wright won his two elections with virtually the same result. He carried the district by about 30,000 votes both times, recording victory percentages of 52.8 percent (2020 versus Mr. Daniel) and 53.1 percent (2018 against Ms. Sanchez). In each instance he lost the district’s dominant county, part of Tarrant that includes the city of Arlington, but won the race with landslide victories in the district’s smaller two counties, Ellis and Navarro. In neither campaign did any candidate, including Rep. Wright, reach $1 million in campaign spending.
The major political change is in Tarrant County. Districtwide, in the last of his 17 congressional victories, former Rep. Joe Barton (R) carried the 6th District’s Tarrant portion with 52 percent of the vote (58 percent districtwide) and posted a 53,000-plus vote district-wide victory margin.
In the 2018 election, Rep. Wright lost Tarrant County by approximately 10,000 votes, and fell six points below Barton’s final performance. A similar split occurred in 2020 when Mr. Wright lost Tarrant by over 11,000 votes, again securing 46 percent of the county vote. This break from the region’s typical vote history suggests that the special election here could become competitive.
The presidential numbers reveal similar Republican slippage. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried the 6th with a 58-41 percent margin. Four years later, then-candidate Donald Trump posted a lesser 54-42 percent win, before dropping even lower in 2020, 51-48 percent.
Regardless of the special election outcome, the chances of this district again becoming more Republican as a result of redistricting are strong. Likely needing to shed over 61,000 individuals, it is presumed these people will be fed to other Tarrant County Democratic districts in order to again secure the 6th in the safe Republican column.
Therefore, if Ms. Wright, or another Republican, wins the seat this year, the prospects of gaining a position he or she can easily win in future elections become very strong.