TX-06 special election: A battle between Trump versus Perry endorsements

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

A special election is being held in Texas today to fill the congressional seat left vacant after the death of Rep. Ron Wright. His widow, Susan, is expected to win the run-off against state Rep. Jake Ellzey. Both candidates are Republicans. The special election in TX-06 is seen as a test of Trump’s influence in Texas politics.

Rep. Wright died of complications from COVID-19 in February after battling cancer for many years. Susan filed to run for his seat in a crowded field of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as Libertarians and Independents – a total of 23 candidates. Democrats had high hopes of flipping the district given that the once strong Republican congressional district has been less so in recent elections. Wright finished first in the primary race, followed by Ellzey in second place, with Democrat Jana Sanchez finishing closely behind Ellzey in third place. Sanchez had the support of national Democrats and the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Trump delivered an eleventh-hour endorsement of Wright and she beat Ellzey and Sanchez by almost six points.

Ellzey’s biggest name supporter is Rick Perry. Perry has the distinction of being the longest-serving Governor in Texas history. He served in the Trump administration as Energy Secretary. He is still well-liked by many Texans. But, does his endorsement carry more weight with Texas Republican voters than Trump’s? It didn’t in the primary race. Unless there is an unexpected upset tonight when the results are tallied, Wright is expected to win the run-off. Endorsements don’t always matter much with voters but in this case, loyal Trump supporters will likely stick with his choice of candidate.

Wright is ahead in internal polling. Trump’s Make America Great Again Action PAC has contributed a last-minute $100,000 campaign ad buy for Wright as concerns rise about the likelihood of low voter turnout. Low turnout may work in Ellzey’s favor. We know that low voter turnout in special elections can produce results that might not happen in a normal general election. (Think Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst in 2012.) Internal polling shows Wright with a 12 point advantage over Ellzey. He has raised more campaign cash than Wright.

Ellzey has raised more campaign cash than his rival. From the period between April 12 and July 7, which captures the final weeks of the primary and most of the runoff stage, Wright raised $454,286, bringing her total for the entire election cycle to $740,617. In the same period Ellzey raised $1.2 million, bringing his total campaign haul to $1.7 million.

Wright, however, is supported by the Club for Growth. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of Susan Wright and torching Ellzey in campaign mailers and ads. The ads have gotten so ugly, apparently, that former Rep. Joe Barton endorsed Ellzey to take the seat he once held. Barton resigned from Congress in 2017 amidst a scandal involving nude photos from an extramarital affair surfacing online.

“Between disgraced creep Joe Barton and 2020 Democrat nominee Stephen Daniel, Rep. Ellzey certainly knows how to pick winning endorsements in a Republican runoff,” said Matthew Langston, Wright’s chief consultant, in a prepared statement. “Our campaign is thrilled to be endorsed by President Trump, Senator Cruz, and hundreds of grassroots conservative across TX-06 — and we’re more than glad to let Rep. Ellzey claim those clowns.”

Barton responded to Wright’s consultant calling him a “disgraced creep” by pointing out that he was elected to lead the district 17 times by comfortable, if not overwhelming margins.

“I’ve been elected in 17 primaries and 17 general elections,” Barton said. “How many elections has he won? I’ll put my record up against his on any day.”

Barton said he was disappointed that Wright would allow such a caustic campaign attack against him, pointing out that he hired her husband, Ron Wright, and gave support to her family during his illness.

“That shows you what kinds of campaign she’s running,” he said.

There is a history between Ellzey and the Wright family. Ron Wright was a close friend of Barton and worked as his district director and chief of staff over a 13-year period. Ellzey ran against Ron Wright in the 2018 GOP primary. Wright won that race and went to D.C. to succeed Barton, who held the seat for three decades. Barton admits that Wright would be a good congressional representative.

Susan Wright is a longtime Republican activist and served on the Texas GOP’s state executive committee before launching her campaign. She is well known in local Republican politics. She is backed by much of the state Republican establishment. She has the endorsement of Senator Ted Cruz. On the flip side, Rep. Dan Crenshaw spoke favorably of Ellzey during a fundraiser in Arlington, Texas on July 14.

Trump recorded a robocall for Wright. He also headlined a virtual event to turn out last-minute voters.

Nothing is set in stone in politics. This special election is one to keep an eye on as a gauge of Trump’s ability to be a kingmaker with candidate endorsements. So far he has a mixed record but he is showing his intention to continue to weigh in on Texas politics, the country’s largest red state. We should know later tonight what the outcome is in this election.