AUSTIN, Texas – Democrats who were hoping for encouraging signs in Texas found none on Saturday in a special election to fill a vacant seat in Congress. Instead, they found themselves excluded from a runoff that will now see two Republicans fighting for the seat in North Texas.
The two Republicans – Susan Wright, who was endorsed by President Donald J. Trump, and State Representative Jake Ellzey – emerged as the top vote-givers in a 23-candidate multi-party special election to replace the husband of Mrs. Wright, representative of the United States. Ron Wright, who this year became the first congressman to die from Covid-19.
Jana Lynne Sanchez, a Democrat who put in a surprisingly strong performance for the seat in 2018 and was seen by many as child’s play for the second round, came in third, leaving the two Republicans to fight for the seat. that their party controlled. for nearly four decades.
Democrats who needed a strong turnout to be competitive didn’t get one. They were hoping for signs of weakness in the Republican brand due to the state’s disastrous response to the brutal February winter storm or any signs of weariness with Mr. Trump, but they haven’t seen him either.
Michael Wood, a small businessman and Navy veteran who gained national attention as the only openly anti-Trump Republican in the field, garnered just 3% of the vote.
Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in Texas since 1994. When the seat is filled, the Texas home delegation will be 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
“The Republicans came out and the Democrats didn’t,” said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It’s an essential item to take away. The party has to think very systematically about what is wrong and what it needs to change in order to be successful.
Since 1983, Republicans have occupied their seats in the Sixth Congressional District of Texas, which primarily includes rural areas in three counties in North Texas and part of the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area around Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington. .
But a growing number of Hispanics and African Americans have fueled Democrats’ hope that they can at least embark on a runoff. Mr. Trump won the district by just 3 points in November. Ms Sanchez, who grew up in the district and built a strong political organization, has been widely described as the leading candidate in the 10 Democrats’ field.
But in the end, she got 354 fewer votes after Democrats busted the party’s vote, and Mr Ellzey pushed her aside for the second round. Ms. Wright won 19.2% of the vote against 13.8% for Mr. Ellzey. Ms. Sanchez won 13.4% of the vote.
The big championship may have cost Ms Sanchez a second-round berth, but in the end, Republicans won 62% of the vote and Democrats 37%, which does not bode well for her hopes of winning. if it ended up in the second round.
“Democrats have come a long way to compete in Texas, but we still have a long way to go,” Ms. Sanchez said in a concession statement Sunday morning.
She said, “We will continue to fight for a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Texas and to elect leaders who care about serving the needs of Texans, although that will not happen immediately in this district.”
The Republican second round was already showing signs of fighting along the familiar center-right pitch.
Ms Wright’s consultant general Matt Langston assaulted Mr Ellzey, a former Navy pilot who was endorsed by former Governor Rick Perry as “an opportunistic RINO” – a Republican in name only.
And one of his prominent supporters, David McIntosh, chairman of the conservative Club for Growth, who spent more than $ 350,000 on mail, social media and texting against Mr Ellzey’s candidacy, called the runner-up candidate on Sunday. to withdraw. the race. He said it was more important for Republicans to unite behind Ms. Wright’s candidacy before the critical congressional mid-term races next year.
“If he wants to unite, stop attacking,” said Craig Murphy, spokesman for Mr. Ellzey, firmly rejecting Mr. McIntosh’s proposal. Mr. Murphy also denounced Mr. Langston’s statement against his candidate as “stupid and insulting” and described Mr. Ellzey as “a guy who has been under enemy fire eight times”.
The special election defeat in some ways brought to mind the 2020 Texas election, when Democrats believed demographic shifts put them within reach of a potential “blue wave” to eventually take control of the House of Representatives. of the Republican-controlled state and reverse several seats in Congress. . Instead, the blue wave has never failed and the House remains in Republicans’ hands with the same margin as before.
The Sixth District was once a Democratic stronghold, until former Conservative Democrat Phil Gramm changed party membership in 1983. The district has been a reliable Republican stronghold ever since.
The headquarters opened in February after Mr Wright, who had lung cancer, died after contracting the coronavirus. His wife was one of the first to replace him, but his chances of outright victory dwindled after the field grew to 23 candidates: 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, one libertarian and one independent.