Voters in Texas will provide another measure of former President Donald Trump's influence over Republicans when they choose whether to replace a congressman who died of COVID-19 with his Trump-backed widow or a former fighter pilot.
The runoff election on Tuesday between two Republicans in the state's 6th Congressional District outside Dallas will reduce Democrats' narrow 220-211 majority in the House of Representatives by one seat as Congress prepares to try to pass Democrat President Joe Biden's sweeping $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Two Republicans emerged from 23 candidates in the first round of voting May 1.
Trump moved quickly to endorse Susan Wright, a 58-year-old Republican activist, to succeed her husband, Rep. Ron Wright, who died of the coronavirus on Feb. 7. Trump's political action committee, which raises funds to wield political influence, made a last-minute $100,000 television ad buy for her over the weekend, campaign finance records show.
Her rival is fellow conservative state Sen. Jake Ellzey, 51, a former Navy fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has far exceeded her in fundraising, taking in $1.7 million through July 7, $1 million more than Wright, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Trump won the district by three percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, a nine-point slide from four years earlier.
"Trump's endorsement took a relatively equal playing field ... and tipped it decidedly toward Wright," said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor. If the election had been happening concurrently with other, local elections, some Democrats voting in local races might have voted for Ellzey to express dislike for Trump, he said.
"As things stand, I doubt very many Democrats will turn out to vote for a conservative Republican like Ellzey simply because Trump endorsed his opponent," Jones said.
Democrats have made gains in the region in recent years. But they narrowly missed getting a candidate into the runoff, losing what may have been their best shot at adding to their thin House majority.
The Trump-allied fundraising arm of the conservative Club for Growth based in Washington, D.C., says it has spent over $1 million in television ads and mailers for Wright. They proclaim Trump's endorsement of Wright and sharply attack Ellzey, charging that Democrats are trying to get him elected.
"I don't think most Dems are voting" in Tuesday's election, said Jana Lynne Sanchez, the Democrat who was edged out of the runoff by 354 votes back in May, when there were 23 candidates on the ballot. "They are both very far right."
Ellzey has countered by touting his endorsement by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who was a member of Trump's Cabinet, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican congressman from Houston.
Perry on Facebook denounced the Club for Growth "for tearing down a real American hero."
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