Republican Jake Ellzey of Texas won a U.S. House seat on Tuesday night over a rival backed by Donald Trump, dealing the former president a defeat in a test of his endorsement power since leaving office.
Ellzey's come-from-behind victory over Republican Susan Wright, the widow of the late Rep. Ron Wright, in a special congressional election runoff near Dallas is likely to be celebrated by Trump antagonists who have warned against his continued hold on the GOP.
Ellzey was carrying more than 53% of the vote in Texas' 6th Congressional District with results from almost all precincts reported.
"One of things that we've seen from this campaign is a positive outlook, a Reagan Republican outlook, for the future of our country is what the people of the 6th District really really want," Ellzey said to supporters following his victory.
The runoff election came down to the two Republicans in a race to succeed Rep. Ron Wright, who in February became the first member of Congress to die after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Susan Wright, a GOP party activist and widow of the late congressman, carried the endorsement of Trump into the special election runoff with Ellzey, a Republican state legislator who is backed by former Gov. Rick Perry.
Few differences in policy separated the candidates, giving the race in North Texas the feel of a GOP primary.
Far from running on an anti-Trump platform, Ellzey did not try distancing himself from the twice-impeached former president. He instead sought to overcome the lack of Trump's backing by raising more money and showing off other endorsements, including the support of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Trump had endorsed Susan Wright early in the special election, recorded a robocall for her late in the runoff and headlined a telephone rally with voters on the eve of Tuesday's election. Make America Great Action, a political action committee chaired by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, also made a $100,000 ad buy over the weekend.
But the outcome may show the limits of his influence with voters. Republicans have continued making loyalty to Trump paramount since his defeat in November, even as Trump continues to falsely and baselessly assert that the election was stolen.
The North Texas district won by Ellzey -- who narrowly lost the GOP nomination for the seat in 2018 -- has long been Republican territory. But Trump's support in the district had also plummeted: after winning it by double-digits in 2016, he carried it by just 3 percentage points last year, reflecting the trend of Texas' booming suburbs shifting to purple and, in some places, outright blue.
Wright was the leading vote-getter for Texas’ 6th Congressional District in May to emerge from a crowded field of nearly two dozen candidates that included both Republicans and Democrats as well as a Libertarian and Independent candidate.
In the May election, Wright hauled in 4,000 more votes than runner-up Ellzey. The top Democratic candidate, Jana Lynn Sanchez, narrowly missed securing second place, and a spot in the runoff, by just 254 votes.
With the March primary just over six months away, whoever wins the election will have only a little time to get to work before spinning up another campaign to woo voters in Tarrant, Ellis, and Navarro counties.
The Texas mid-term primary is March 1, 2022. The mid-term election is on Nov. 8, 2022.
Lone Star Politics
Ron Wright died just weeks into his second term and remains the only sitting member of Congress who has died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Republican Luke Letlow, who won a U.S. House seat in Louisiana, also died in December after contracting the virus but had not yet been sworn into office.
Rep. Julia Letlow, his widow, won a special election to fill the seat in March.