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Observers Look to Upcoming Texas Election as Marker of Trump’s Influence on GOP

A special election in Texas’ 6th Congressional District on Saturday could test Trump’s influence on elections.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando on Sunday, Feb 28, 2021, in Orlando, FL.

Voters in Texas’ 6th Congressional District will head to the polls on Saturday to choose a successor to former Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), who died after contracting the coronavirus in February. And the contest may prove to be a referendum on former President Donald Trump.

A whopping 23 candidates — 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, one Libertarian and one independent — are on the ballot. If no single candidate wins more than 50 percent, voters will return to the polls later to decide a runoff between the top two candidates.

Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, picked up a key endorsement from Trump earlier this week and is currently favored to walk away from Saturday’s election with the most votes. She is a member of the Texas Republican Executive Committee and picked up a long list of endorsements from Texas GOP lawmakers following her decision to run for office in February.

Wright is running on a platform nearly identical to her late husband’s. In 2020, he won re-election by 9 percentage points in the solidly-conservative district.

“Susan Wright will be a terrific Congresswoman (TX-06) for the Great State of Texas,” Trump said in a statement. “She is the wife of the late Congressman Ron Wright, who has always been supportive of our America First Policies.”

Since announcing her candidacy, Susan Wright has raised more than $286,000. Less than 8 percent of that total came from individuals giving $200 or less. A PAC affiliated with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) contributed $10,000 to Susan Wright’s campaign, and a PAC dedicated to electing Republican women to federal offices contributed the same amount. Wright had around $128,000 on hand as of April 11.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, a former journalist and advertising executive, leads the Democratic candidates in both recent polls and in fundraising. Frustrated by rising anti-immigration sentiment during the Trump administration, Sanchez ran for the 6th District House seat in 2018. She won the Democratic primary, but ultimately lost to Ron Wright. Sanchez has raised just shy of $300,000 and has more than $96,000 remaining in the bank. Approximately 16 percent of her warchest came from small dollar donors. The CHC-BOLD PAC, which gives to pro-immigration candidates, contributed $5,000.

Sanchez has also benefited from nearly $31,000 in outside spending by Nuestro PAC, a super PAC dedicated to helping Democratic candidates reach Latinx voters.

Jake Ellzey, a Republican, has raised more than $500,000. Ellzey ran against Ron Wright in the 2018 Republican primary but lost by a little more than 4 percentage points in a Republican run-off. In 2021, Ellzey picked up the endorsement of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and has benefited from a combined $354,000 in outside spending by two super PACs, American Patriots PAC and the newly-formed Elect Principled Veterans Fund.

Still, Ellzey lags behind both Susan Wright and Sanchez according to a recent poll of the race.

Club for Growth Action, a conservative super PAC, has laid down more than $260,000 in independent spending to oppose Ellzey. An ad produced by the super PAC highlights a $250 contribution to Ellzey’s 2018 primary campaign from Bill Kristol, an GOP pundit who has criticized Trump. Club for Growth has not endorsed a candidate in the race or spent any money supporting any of the other Republicans vying for the seat.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has received support from Club for Growth in the past, voiced his opposition to Ellzey in a statement to the Texas Tribune.

“Texans in CD-6 deserve a strong conservative voice in Congress,” Cruz said. “Jake Ellzey’s financial support from never-Trumpers, openness to amnesty, and opposition to school choice should concern Texans looking for a conservative leader.”

Cruz has not endorsed a candidate, though former wrestler Dan Rodimer — a Republican who released an ad that went viral in March — reportedly claimed that Cruz and “the Trump family” encouraged him to enter the race. He has raised approximately $337,000.

Two former Trump-administration staff members are also competing for the seat. Brian Harrison, former chief of staff in the Department of Health and Human Services, and Sery Kim, former assistant administrator in the Small Business Administration, both hope that their link to the former president will boost their chances. In 2020, Trump won the district by 3 percentage points.

Harrison has raised almost $641,334 — more than any other candidate in the race — with fundraising help from former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and other GOP insiders.

One Republican, Michael Wood, is running on his opposition to the former president.

“The Republican Party has lost its way and now is the time to fight for its renewal. We were once a party of ideas, but we have devolved into a cult of personality,” Wood says on his campaign website. “This must end, and Texas must lead the way.”

Anti-Trump GOP groups coalesced behind Wood, making Saturday’s contest the first test for center-right Republicans after Trump’s departure from the Oval Office. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a vocal Trump critic, pledged to support Republicans who opposed the former president. Kinzinger’s campaign committee donated $2,000 to Wood, and his leadership PAC endorsed him. Still, Wood’s fundraising lags behind many of his opponents, totaling only $98,627.

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