Texas State Rep. Jake Ellzey on Tuesday defeated Republican activist Susan Wright to replace Wright’s late husband, Ron Wright, in Congress.
Ellzey’s victory was a blow to former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Wright over the objections of several major Texas Republicans, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Trump is perceived to be the leader of the Republican Party, both nationally and locally, and the 6th Congressional District race was a test of his political clout in his post presidency. Though he didn’t campaign for Wright in Texas, he hosted two tele-rallies on her behalf, but couldn’t push her past Ellzey.
After his victory, Ellzey said it was his positive message about moving America forward during tough times that won out, even in the face of Trump’s opposition.
“She had great endorsements. I had great endorsements that I’m very proud of, but at the end of the day the candidates had to get out and run their own campaigns, because that’s the guy or lady who will represent District 6 on the floor of the House of Representatives,” Ellzey said. “The people of District 6 are great people and I will represent them with quiet professionalism.”
Ellzey beat Wright by over 2,500 votes. He was victorious in Ellis County, where he lives. And he stunned Wright, who lives in Arlington, in Tarrant County. Wright won a close victory in Navarro County, an area dominated by Trump supporters. Just over 39,100 people voted in the runoff, way down from the over 78,000 people that cast ballots in the May primary.
One of Ellzey’s major supporters said Trump should have stayed out of the race.
“He would have been better off staying neutral,” said former U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, an Ellzey supporter who represented District 6 for 34 years. “Jake is not anti-Trump. He’s a strong conservative.”
Ellzey and Wright are both Republicans are have nearly identical, conservative views on issues.
On Tuesday Texas Gov. Greg Abbott congratulated Ellzey on his victory.
“Jake will be a strong and effective leader for the people of North Texas and he will fight tirelessly for their values in Washington,” Abbott said in a written statement.
After conceding to Ellzey, Wright wished him well on Twitter and thanked the people of District 6 for their kindness to her family, including Ron Wright.
Special elections are special, and this one was no exception.
I want to congratulate Congressman-elect Jake Ellzey on his victory. I am praying for his success & wish him well.
I will never forget the kindness the people of #TX06 have shown Ron & I for so many years. Thank you.
— Susan Wright (@SusanWrightTX6) July 28, 2021
Along with Trump, Wright was also endorsed by the Texas Republican Party, a rare occurrence in a contest that featured other Republicans.
And Ellzey, knowing Democrats make up a significant part of the district’s vote and were perhaps turned off by Trump’s endorsement of Wright, reached out for Democratic support in the final weekend of the campaign.
“He was winning in Tarrant County and won big in Ellis County,” Barton said of the result. “He ran a very good campaign.”
The runoff contest, largely a sleepy affair, was nasty at times, as the anti-tax group called the Club for Growth saturated the district with mailers and ads that described Ellzey as an anti-Trump Republican who is soft on border security and would be a tool for Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But in vehemently denying those charges, Ellzey, a decorated former Navy pilot and combat veteran, cast himself as a strong conservative and consensus builder needed to move forward in gridlocked Washington.
Ellzey, 51, tried to counter Trump’s backing of Wright with strong support of his own, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Barton, who held the seat for 34 years.
Along with Trump, Wright, who lives in Arlington, is backed by Sen. Ted Cruz, former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and the Texas Republican Party.
Perry predicted that the anti-Ellzey crusade by the Club for Growth “would get Wright beat.”
“He’s a classic Texas conservative,” Perry said of Ellzey.
Perry said Ellzey would be a strong leader.
“Jake will be able to serve the people of Texas and in turn the people of America for many years,” Perry said Tuesday night. “The voters did not buy into the lies and innuendo of the dark money East Coast donors. Well done Texas …well done Jake Ellzey!”
The race to replace Wright began as a raucous spectacle that featured 23 candidates—11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, one Libertarian and an independent—all vying for two spots in the expected runoff. The special election was a rare Texas event because candidates in the same primary from multiple parties scoured the district for votes, making the outcome unclear.
Though the district has been controlled by Republicans for decades, their margin of victory has decreased over time, as demographic shifts have made Democratic Party candidates more competitive. In 2020 Trump won the district by about three percentage points.
Held on the first Saturday in May, the primary was boosted by voters who traveled to the polls for municipal elections, including a hotly contested race for Arlington mayor.
On the strength of Trump’s endorsement and a heavy turnout in Tarrant County, Wright finished atop the field, ahead of Ellzey, who placed second, by 4,200 votes. That set up a July 27 runoff in the dead of summer and devoid of other contests to attract voters. Ellzey barely finished second, holding off Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez.
With her first-round lead, Wright coasted for the bulk of the runoff campaign, doing few interviews and no candidate debates with Ellzey.
Turnout for the election was predictably low.
Though Wright was the frontrunner, Ellzey outspent her in the contest. According to Federal Election Commission reports, he raised $1.7 million through July 7. That was $1 million more than Wright.
On Saturday, Trump’s Make America Great Again Action PAC made a last-ditch, $100,000 ad buy to boost Wright.
Wright’s campaign was paced by the Club for Growth, who spent at least $1.1 million on attack ads that savaged Ellzey as a bad choice for the district, or spots that touted Wright.
Ellzey and his supporters, including Perry, Barton and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Houston denounced the attacks by the Club for Growth as false and misleading. Perry added that the Club for Growth president, David McIntosh, “fed Trump a bill of goods” to get the former president to endorse Wright.
Club for Growth officials stood by their ads.
For her part, Wright said it wasn’t her place to infringe on the Club for Growth’s right to free speech.
But numerous voters interviewed at early voting locations said they didn’t like the mailers that attacked Ellzey.
“I didn’t believe all of that,” said Cyndi Bristol, a 65-year-old retired nurse from Mansfield. “Jake Ellzey is the best candidate.”
The contest, which featured two Republican candidates, was largely a test on whether Trump is still the most influential player in the Republican Party.
His backing of Wright is believed to have helped her in Ellis and Navarro counties, both Republican strongholds easily carried by Trump in his presidential elections, and where Ellzey, who lives in Waxahachie, had hoped to establish a beachhead. He represents a Texas House district that is anchored in Ellis County.
Wright won Trump’s endorsement upon the advice from officials at the Club for Growth, and his belief, according to several with knowledge of his decision, that Wright had a built-in advantage because she’s the widow of Ron Wright.
In the days leading up to the general election, Trump stepped up his outreach to voters, twice restating his endorsement of Wright, recording automatic phone calls that went throughout the district and advertising through his super PAC on television.
“Hello, this is your hopefully all-time favorite President, Donald Trump…”
Yes it is!
Thank you President Trump for recording a robocall into #TX06 — I’m honored to have your support and I look forward to advancing your America First Agenda in Congress! #MAGA 🇺🇸🦅 pic.twitter.com/z3spLyb4LH
— Susan Wright (@SusanWrightTX6) July 25, 2021
Ellzey’s biggest challenge was to overcome Trump’s endorsement, and he struggled at times to find an answer to why the former president saw fit to get involved in the race.
For most of the campaign, Ellzey, with surrogates like Perry, appealed to base Republican voters. But days before the election he sent campaign mailers to Democratic Party voters in the district. Those mailers, along with text messages voters received from some source, portrayed Ellzey as a fighter for public education, while pointing out that Wright is endorsed by Trump.
It’s possible that Ellzey was able to mine Democratic voters who otherwise would have skipped a race featuring two Republicans. Wright’s campaign had already been pounding Ellzey as a tool for Democrats, so he couldn’t openly court those voters until the final days of his campaign.
“He would like it if Democrats vote for him, but he sure doesn’t want to go out on a date with one,” Democratic strategist Matt Angle said of Ellzey’s imagery.
Wright told The Dallas Morning News that she felt her late husband’s presence on the campaign trail.
“He’s here,” she said. “He’s with me.”
And Trump alluded to Ron Wright during his tele-rally the night before the election.
In 2020 Ron Wright was elected to a second term, but died in February after battling COVID-19 and lung cancer.
Ellzey lost to Wright in the 2018 Republican Primary, before rebounding in 2020 to win a Texas House seat.
Trump told Susan Wright her late husband was pleased with her effort.
“I knew Ron Wright and he was an outstanding member of Congress’s and we’ll carry on his legacy,” Trump told Republicans on the call. “Susan, Ron is looking down on you and he’s very, very proud right now.”