Race to replace late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright already crowded — with more candidates likely

The Texas Tribune

The race to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, has already attracted a crowd of candidates — and more are expected in the coming days.

Even before Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that the special election would be May 1, Democrats and Republicans were lining up for the seat, and as of Wednesday, at least 10 contenders had entered the contest. They range from the obscure to well-known, most notably including Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, who made her bid official Wednesday morning.

The filing deadline is a week away — 5 p.m. March 3.

The district has been trending Democratic in statewide results, though Ron Wright won his races comfortably, and national Democrats are now faced with the decision of how hard to push to flip the district in the special election. Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted 10 GOP-held districts in Texas — including Ron Wright’s — and captured none of them.

Still, some Democrats see opportunity.

The district “fundamentally changed as the Republican Party has changed,” said one of the Democrats running, Jana Lynne Sanchez, the 2018 nominee for the seat.

For Republicans, the race could turn into a referendum on the direction of their party after the presidency of Donald Trump, who has connections to at least two potential contenders. So far, though, much of the discussion on the GOP side of the contest has centered on the candidacy of Susan Wright, who starts off as the most formidable-looking candidate and was already collecting endorsements Wednesday.

The Republicans

Her most prominent GOP opponent is state Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, who filed papers to run for the seat Wednesday afternoon with the Federal Election Commission. Ellzey, who just started his first term in the state House, faced Ron Wright in the 2018 Republican primary runoff for the congressional seat and lost by 4 percentage points.

The GOP field could still get a nationally recognized name in Katrina Pierson, the former Trump campaign spokesperson from Garland. She has said she is considering running, as has another Republican with Trump ties: Brian Harrison, who was chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Trump. Harrison is an Ellis County native.

Among the lower-profile Republicans already running, there is Mike Egan, an Army veteran and former Green Beret who earned two Bronze stars, as well as John Anthony Castro, a 2020 primary challenger to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who got 5% of the vote.

The Democrats

On the Democratic side, the first to declare was Sanchez, who faced Ron Wright for the congressional seat when it was open three years ago and lost by 8 points. When Sanchez announced her special election campaign on Feb. 16, she said she had already collected $100,000 for the race.

“I am the only candidate who will be able to raise the money that’s necessary,” she said in an interview.

Sanchez was followed by fellow Democrats Shawn Lassiter, an eduction nonprofit leader in Fort Worth, and then Lydia Bean, the Democratic nominee last year against state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. Lassiter, who was previously running for the Fort Worth City Council, released a launch video Wednesday morning in which she speaks directly to the camera, inside a powerless home, about the leadership failures that led to the Texas winter weather crisis last week.

A fourth Democratic candidate, Matthew Hinterlong of Dallas, filed FEC papers for the seat later Wednesday.

The non-candidates, potential candidates

The Democrat who ran against Ron Wright in November, Stephen Daniel, announced Tuesday he would not be a candidate in the special election. And on Wednesday evening, state Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, opted against running, saying he wanted to remain focused on the “huge set of challenges facing our state in the current legislative session.”

“The Sixth Congressional District is an increasingly competitive seat and I am grateful we will have several talented Democratic candidates seeking this office,” Turner said in a statement.

Among Republicans, the seat’s previous holder, Joe Barton, and Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn have similarly removed themselves from consideration. On Wednesday evening, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, erased any speculation he could run, endorsing Susan Wright.

There appear to be more Republicans than Democrats who could still jump in. In addition to Pierson and Harrison, potential Republican candidates include local officials like Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, and Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.

Ramirez told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday that he was “still kicking it around” and planning to make up his mind in the next couple of days. He noted he has “great respect for Susan Wright and Congressman Wright, so that’s a heavy consideration knowing that she’s in.”

The Wright stuff?

The longtime GOP activist looms large. She serves on the State Republican Executive Committee and has been district director for former state Rep. Bill Zedler of Arlington, and his successor, David Cook of Mansfield.

“I’m running for Congress to continue my husband’s legacy by supporting economic growth, reforming our broken healthcare system, and defending Texas conservative values,” Susan Wright said in a news release, which also noted her husband had been a “staunch defender” of Trump.

Within hours of launching her campaign, Wright got the endorsement of Rick Barnes, the chairman of the Tarrant County GOP. Tarrant County is the largest of the three counties that make up the congressional district.

In his statement backing Susan Wright, Tinderholt said the Wrights “have been like family” to him and that he looks forward to hitting the campaign trail with her.

Abby Livingston contributed reporting.

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