Photograph: Susan Walsh / AP
Susan Wright, the widow of the Republican congressman whose death prompted a special election in Texas on Saturday, made the rounds after reporting to law enforcement a bizarre robocall in which she was charged with the murder of her husband in contracting Covid-19.
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The election in the Sixth Congressional District on Saturday drew 23 candidates and was seen as a key test of both a Donald Trump-sided Republican Party and Democratic hopes for a breakthrough in Texas.
Backed by the former president, Wright led with 19% of the vote. The only anti-Trump conservative on the ground, former sailor Michael Wood, was falling short of the pace.
A Republican, Jake Ellzey, edged Democrat, Jana Lynne Sanchez, for second place and a place in the second round.
Ellzey, a state official and Navy veteran, garnered 13.8% of the vote. Only 354 ballots and less than half a percentage point separated him from Sanchez, a journalist and communications professional who ran for the seat in 2018, with 13.4%.
In a statement, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilbert Hinojosa put a brave face to the outcome.
“The New Democratic South is on the rise,” he insisted, “and we will continue to rally our movement to take back our state – including in the run-up to the 2022 governor’s race. We are ready to build. a Democratic power, ready to defeat the Republicans in Texas and ready to elect leaders who stand up for our rights and put Texans first.
Nonetheless, the Sixth District, close to Dallas and Fort Worth, will once again send a Republican to Washington despite the Democratic leanings for years. Trump won it in 2020, but only by three points after winning by 12 in 2016, which led to a five-point drop over Mitt Romney four years earlier.
In Utah on Saturday, Romney, the only Republican senator to vote to convict in Trump’s two impeachment trials, was booed and called a “traitor” when he spoke at a state convention.
NBC News reported the vote split in Texas at around 60% -40% in favor of Republicans. Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University, told Reuters: “The Democrats did not bring their people out, and to the extent that they did … they have divided a large part of the Democratic votes. “
The competition was aimed at filling a vacant seat when Congressman Ron Wright died in February, after contracting Covid-19. Trump approved his wife this week.
On the eve of the election, Politico reported that Susan Wright sought help from local and federal law enforcement after voters received a robocall saying that she “murdered her husband” and that she “got away with it.” presented to Congress to cover it up ”.
The robocall claimed that Wright “had obtained a $ 1 million life insurance policy on the life of her husband … six months before his death” and “confided in tears to a nurse whom she purposely had. contracted the coronavirus ”.
The call, in a female voice, did not say who had paid.
“It’s illegal, immoral and false,” Wright said. “There isn’t a sewer that’s too deep that some politicians won’t want to dig.”
Matt Langston, an aide, said: “Susan’s opponents are desperate and resort to a disgusting gutter policy.”
Other Republican candidates condemned the call.
Ahead of polling day, Wood, the anti-Trump conservative, told CNN he showed up because he was worried about Trump’s influence and that “someone has to stand up and say that it was not what the Republican Party should be ”.
He also said he was “afraid for the future of the country” given the prevalence of belief in Trump’s lie that the election was stolen – 70% of Republicans in a CNN poll this week said they believed Joe Biden did not win enough legitimate votes. to win the White House – and conspiracy theories like QAnon.