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Government/Politics

Two Republicans Race To Replace The Only Member Of Congress To Die After Contracting COVID

Jake Ellzey, and Susan Wright are both vying for Texas' 6th Congressional District seat in a runoff Tuesday, July 27.
Jake Ellzey, and Susan Wright are both vying for Texas' 6th Congressional District seat in a runoff Tuesday, July 27.

In Tuesday's special election runoff, Susan Wright will try to succeed her late husband. So will Jake Ellzey, a state legislator and former political foe of Ron Wright.

Susan Wright has the endorsement of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Jake Ellzey's stable includes U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, former Gov. Rick Perry and Joe Barton, the political veteran who gave up the 6th Congressional District seat three years ago after a sexting scandal.

Those backers may be the biggest political difference between the two conservative Republicans.

Ron Wright represented the 6th Congressional District, which stretches from a chunk of southeast Tarrant County down through Ellis and Navarro counties.

Susan Wright is a longtime Republican activist and the late congressman’s widow.

Ellzey, a Waxahachie Republican, is a Navy veteran and freshman state representative who lost to Ron Wright in the primary for this seat in 2018. He was elected to the Texas Legislature less than a year ago.

It's unusual to have two Republicans in the final pairing for a Congressional seat. That's because this is a special election, and more than 20 candidates from both parties competed in the May 1 preliminary round. No one got close to half the vote, which triggered a runoff between the top two.

Looking at Wright and Ellzey’s campaign websites, both list a lot of the same priorities.

They both oppose abortion. They both want to maintain gun rights and build former president Trump’s border wall.

To Ellzey, the big difference between him and Wright is experience. He pointed to his support of the Heartbeat Act, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in May. It’s a law that bans abortion as early as six weeks, set to go into effect in September.

“I’m the elected legislator who actually has a legislative track record of success on those various issues,” Ellzey said.

Wright pointed out that she is no political newbie. She’s currently the district director for state Rep. David Cook, and she serves on the State Republican Executive Committee, the governing board of the Republican Party of Texas.

“I've got 30 years’ history working on policy and advancing [the] Republican agenda and Republican concerns and policies,” she said.

Wright stressed her experience in constituent services, as well as her work with her late husband while he served in this seat.

“When he was a congressman, I was already on the state board for the party, so we worked in tandem,” she said.

Emotions in this race have flared about anti-Ellzey ads sponsored by a national conservative organization called The Club for Growth.

Barton, who held the 6th District seat for 17 terms, criticized Susan Wright during an appearance on The Mark Davis Show, saying she should have disavowed the ads.

“That’s the biggest disappointment in this race to me, that Susan has allowed that and the Club for Growth to do what they’ve done,” Barton said.

In her interview with KERA, Wright underscored that her campaign was not responsible for the ads.

“Anything I have to say has ‘Paid for by Susan Wright for Congress.’ I didn't do these,” Wright said. “If you don't like it, they should talk to the organizations that do it.”

Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU, called Wright and Ellzey “virtual ideological twinsies.”

With two similar Republicans running, the result hinges on who can turn more people out to vote, he said — which could be tough in a summertime runoff.

"If it doesn't make any difference which candidate gets elected, I might as well go to Six Flags," he said.

Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez came within 354 votes of edging Ellzey out of the runoff.

Riddlesperger calls that the story of the election.

"What it is is a statement that the people in the 6th Congressional District want a conservative Republican in Congress, and they win either way," he said.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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