By Jim EllisJuly 27, 2021 — The late Texas US Rep. Ron Wright’s (R-Arlington) replacement will be chosen today as the double-Republican special congressional runoff election draws to a conclusion. The late congressman’s widow, Susan Wright (R), is favored over state Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-Waxahachie), but low turnout elections often produce surprising results.
From a partisan context, the race is anti-climactic since we already know a Republican will claim the seat and expand the House Republican conference total to the 212 mark. Democrats hold 220 seats.
Two more vacant House seats will largely be decided next Tuesday when voters in two Ohio districts will go to the polls in partisan primary contests. In each case, winning the party nomination is virtually tantamount to claiming the seat, so it is highly likely that the two parties will split the elections. The Ohio nominees, however, will have to wait until Nov. 2 for their final vote. The special election season will conclude on Jan. 11, 2022, when South Florida voters will choose a successor to the late Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Delray Beach) in the state’s 20th District.
As is generally the case in special elections, voter turnout is the critical factor. The Texas Secretary of State has released the 6th District early voting participation numbers, and we see 20,534 ballots having been cast through July 23. In the May 1 jungle primary election, 45,259 people voted early, or 57.7 percent of the total voting universe for that election (78,471).
So far in this runoff, only 4.2 percent of the registered voter universe of 493,077 individuals have cast their ballot. Considering that 65.4 percent of Ellzey’s vote came via early voting in the special primary as compared to 47.2 percent for Wright, the low early totals should prove a benefit to the latter candidate.
There is no question that turnout will be significantly down from the jungle primary contest that featured 23 candidates. Runoffs almost always draw fewer voters than the initial election, but that pattern will likely be accentuated in this situation since it is a contest between members of the same party. Democratic interest in the race is low and, with no candidate in the runoff, the party turnout is expected to be miniscule.
Endorsements are an issue in the race, and they are anything but unanimous. While Wright has former President Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), five Texas US House members, House Republican Conference chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the Texas Republican Party, the Club for Growth Action Fund, and the Susan B. Anthony List organization, Ellzey drew support from former Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Houston), former Rep. Joe Barton, who represented the 6th District for 34 years, and the two largest newspapers that cover the district, the Dallas Morning News, and the Ft. Worth Star Telegram.
With the Trump organization actively increasing its presence in the district for Wright during the past week, ex-Gov. Perry, who served as President Trump’s Energy Secretary, retorted that he didn’t think the ex-president “would even know Susan Wright if he saw her.”
The money count heavily favors Rep. Ellzey, by better than a 2:1 ratio, though a major independent expenditure from the Club for Growth has helped Wright cut her financial deficit.
The 6th District is one of the traditionally Republican Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex seats that is beginning to trend toward the Democrats. In Mr. Wright’s two victories, he lost the district’s dominant population center, southeast Tarrant County, thus having to depend on huge victories in the two rural counties, Ellis and Navarro, in order to secure his elections.
Since the 6th is projected to shed approximately 61,000 people in population under the new census figures, expect the redistricting process to make this seat a safer Republican domain for whoever wins tonight.