A special election in Texas on Saturday features a sprawling field of Republicans and Democrats competing for the US House seat formerly held by the late GOP Rep. Ron Wright, who died in February after contracting Covid-19.
Candidates from both parties are competing on the same ballot, with 23 candidates in total, including 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote on Saturday, the race will advance to a runoff between the two candidates who receive the most votes.
Texas’$2 6th Congressional District has been in Republican hands for years, though the GOP margin of victory has declined at the presidential level in recent elections. That creates a possible opening for Democrats, but a Republican candidate is still viewed as most likely to win.
“I think Democrats can compete in this district, but it is still right of center, and one would expect the Republicans to hold it,” Kyle Kondik, an election analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told CNN. “Also, and just like in midterms, special elections are likelier to break against the White House party than toward it. If Trump was still in the White House, this race might very well be a coin flip, but it’s not one would expect to flip with a Democratic president in office.”
Among the Republican field, Susan Wright, the widow of the late congressman, is frequently described as the front-runner, and her campaign got a major boost with a recent endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
In a shocking last-minute development in the race, Wright’s campaign said Friday that it has reached out to federal law enforcement authorities after learning of a robocall falsely alleging that she had murdered her husband.
“This is illegal, immoral, and wrong,” Wright said in a statement. “There’s not a sewer too deep that some politicians won’t plumb. Imagine it: someone is attacking my late husband, the love of my life, a man who gave me such joy in life.”
Other leading GOP contenders include state Rep. Jake Ellzey, a top fundraiser in the race, and Brian Harrison, a former Trump administration official who worked for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Almost all of the Republican candidates have tied themselves to Trump to varying degrees, including Dan Rodimer, a former pro wrestler running on the tagline “Make America Texas again,” and Sery Kim, another former Trump administration official, who served as an assistant administrator at the Small Business Administration.
“President Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party,” Rodimer told CNN in a recent interview. “I don’t think he’s going to go anywhere, ever. I hope he doesn’t.”
The exception in the GOP field is Michael Wood, a Marine combat veteran and the one Republican in the race who has run an explicitly anti-Trump campaign. Wood wants Republicans to reject Trump and stop perpetuating conspiracy theories like the lie that the 2020 election was stolen and like QAnon, which is frequently described as a virtual cult.
“I felt like I had to stand up. Somebody needed to stand up and say this isn’t what the Republican Party should be, and we’ve got to go in a different direction,” Wood told CNN.
Wood is widely viewed as running a long-shot campaign, but he has the endorsement of GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and the race will be a high-profile test of whether an anti-Trump message can resonate with conservative voters in the aftermath of the January 6 US Capitol attack and Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
On the Democratic side of the field, three candidates appear to be most competitive: Jana Lynne Sanchez, who was the Democratic candidate for the seat in 2018; Lydia Bean, who ran for a state House seat in 202; and Shawn Lassiter, an educator and nonprofit leader.
Several of the Democrats in the race have taken aim at Washington politicians, including Texas’ GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, zeroing in on his controversial decision to fly to Cancun, Mexico, in February as a weather disaster in his home state left millions without power or water, a move he has said was “obviously a mistake” and that “in hindsight I wouldn’t have done.”
In one campaign video, Sanchez says, “Too many working Texans are struggling, but Washington politicians like Ted Cruz opposed $1,400 checks for us. They even abandoned us when the lights went out.”
Lassiter says in one of her campaign videos, “Texas families are angry, tired and we want answers … Families who had power were bringing in strangers during a pandemic, but our senator leaves for a beach vacation. It should be instinct for our leaders to care, to fight.”
CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, Manu Raju, Alex Rogers, Ethan Cohen, Adam Levy and Paul P. Murphy contributed to this report.
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