23 Candidates Vie to Replace Texas Congressman Who Died of Covid

The so-called jungle primary comes nearly three months after a second-term House Republican died from Covid-19. His widow is among nearly two dozen candidates running for his seat.

Sign supporting various candidates sit outside an early voting location in Mansfield, Texas, on Tuesday. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

FORT WORTH (CN) – A crowded field of 23 candidates made their final push Friday on the eve of a special election to replace Texas Congressman Ron Wright, the first sitting member of Congress to die after contracting Covid-19.

The so-called jungle primary for Texas’ 6th Congressional District is being closely watched nationwide over Democrats’ progress in the traditionally red state since last year’s election of President Joe Biden. The district has long been a Republican stronghold, but has slowly become more blue as formerly rural areas in the district become more suburban.

Wright comfortably won reelection last year with 53% of the vote, while former President Donald Trump won the district by a narrower 51% to 48% margin. Trump’s win was noticeably narrower than his 54% to 42% victory in 2016.

The election will be over if any of the candidates secure over 50% of the vote Saturday, otherwise a runoff will be held for the two top vote recipients. Party primary rules do not apply in this election, so the runoff could very well be between two candidates from the same party.

Leading the Republican field is widow Susan Wright, who picked up an endorsement from Trump on Monday. He predicted she would be a “terrific” congresswoman and said she has his “complete and total” endorsement.

“She is the wife of the late Congressman Ron Wright, who has always been supportive of our America First Policies,” Trump said in a statement. “Susan will be strong on the Border, Crime, Pro-Life, our brave Military and Vets, and will ALWAYS protect your Second Amendment.”

Wright’s campaign has hinged on continuing her husband’s work of enacting laws that strengthen economic growth, national defense and border security. She formerly worked as a district director for two Texas state legislators.

The Democratic field is headlined by journalist, campaign manager and Democratic fundraiser Jana Lynne Sanchez, who lost to Wright by 9% in the 2018 general election. An Ellis County native, Sanchez supports expanding the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid and introducing a public option for Medicare. She has campaigned for enacting universal background checks for gun purchases, arguing they do not violate constitutional rights.

Sanchez led all Democratic candidates with 17% support in a poll last month by Victoria Research conducted on behalf of the Sanchez campaign. Wright led overall with 21%. Other noteworthy candidates include Republican state Representative Jake Ellzey, who polled at 8%, and Democrat Lydia Bean, with 5% support.

Ellzey is a former Navy fighter pilot and civilian contractor who is serving his first term in the Texas House of Representatives. He has campaigned in favor of further deregulation to stimulate economic growth in the state and has opposed the use of state land for federal projects, including the proposed high-speed rail line from Dallas to Houston. Ellzey ran against Wright in the Republican primary in 2018, losing by a narrow single-digit margin.

Bean is a former professor of sociology at Baylor University. She has campaigned on lowering taxes on middle-class families and small businesses while making big corporations and the wealthy “pay their fair share.”

Ellzey leads all candidates in fundraising with over $503,000, according to Federal Election Commission records. Sanchez raised over $299,000, Wright brought in more than $286,000 and Bean raised over $223,000.

Wright died shortly after being sworn in for his second term representing the 6th District, which stretches from the southeast side of Tarrant County into Ellis and Navarro counties. It includes parts of Fort Worth, Arlington and the areas south of Dallas. He replaced Republican Joe Barton, who declined to seek reelection in 2018 after he was accused of sending inappropriate messages and a nude image of himself to a woman.

Wright’s death came two months after Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, 41, died from Covid-19 before he was sworn into office. A special election to fill Letlow’s seat was held in March and was won by his widow Julia, an academic administrator.

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