Jake Ellzey, a Navy veteran and Texas state legislator who has stressed his loyalty to Donald Trump, defeated Trump-endorsed candidate Susan Wright in Tuesday’s all-Republican special election runoff for the seat Wright’s husband held before his death from COVID-19 complications.
The race was considered an early test of the power of a Trump endorsement in GOP primaries heading into the 2022 midterms.
Ellzey was leading Wright, a GOP activist and former state legislative aide, 53 percent to 47 percent when The Associated Press called the race to succeed the late Rep. Ron Wright in the 6th District.
Once Ellzey is sworn in, Republicans will hold 212 seats in the House to Democrats’ 220, meaning Speaker Nancy Pelosi can only afford to lose three members on party-line votes and still have a majority. Two vacancies in Ohio won’t be filled until November, while an open seat in Florida won’t be filled until January.
Susan Wright, 58, was considered an early favorite for the suburban Dallas-Fort Worth seat and had the support of dozens of House Republicans, a position that was strengthened after Trump gave her his imprimatur in the days before the May 1 all-party special election.
But Ellzey, 51, waged a tireless campaign, his second for the seat after narrowly losing to Ron Wright in a 2018 primary runoff. He outraised Susan Wright by more than $1 million and overcame a steady barrage of attacks from her campaign and the Club for Growth. The anti-tax group helped Wright make up her fundraising deficit through $1 million in ads that questioned Ellzey’s Trump loyalty and commitment to the Texas voters who elected him to his state House seat in November.
Ellzey responded by highlighting his military record — he is a decorated veteran who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq — and viewpoints that hewed closely to the GOP’s central messages.
At a recent event in the district, he devoted the majority of his one-hour speech to detailing his alarm at the influx of migrants at the southern border — an issue that polls show is a top concern for Texas voters. He also touched upon suspicions of pandemic control measures and ridicule of President Joe Biden and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose leadership on progressive issues has made her a key target on the right.
He said the former president’s since-reversed decision to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline would have made the country “energy independent” and praised Trump’s decision to revoke the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children — a move the Supreme Court later blocked.
But Ellzey would not give a direct answer to several follow-up questions from CQ Roll Call about who won the 2020 presidential election. “I think there were irregularities,” he said, putting him in line with dozens of other GOP officials who have refused to counter Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen.
“Jake will be a strong and effective leader for the people of North Texas and he will fight tirelessly for their values in Washington,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who did not endorse in the race, said after the results were in.
In the campaign, Ellzey barely mentioned Wright. Instead, he left the potentially touchy task of responding to the attacks from his recently widowed opponent to his high-wattage supporters, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, a fellow veteran.
Perry, who served as Energy secretary under Trump, called the Club for Growth “corrupt” for its attacks on Ellzey and told the The Dallas Morning News that Trump had made a mistake in his endorsement.
“I explained to the president where he had been fed a bill of goods,” Perry said.
Crenshaw, who was among the top five fundraisers in the House in 2020, also went to bat for Ellzey, in a rare example of a member of the House GOP Conference diverting from Trump’s wishes. “They’re lying to you,” Crenshaw said about Wright’s campaign in a statement quoted on Ellzey’s campaign mailers. “I hate dishonest campaigns.”
Trump, who carried the 6th District by 3 points in November, endorsed Wright during the final week of a 23-candidate election on May 1, helping boost Wright to a first-place finish with 19 percent of the vote. But she needed more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff.
Ellzey took 14 percent, narrowly edging out 2018 Democratic nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez and dashing Democratic hopes for a special election pickup this cycle.
Trump reiterated his support for Wright last week. He released a statement from his leadership PAC calling her “outstanding,” and his Make America Great Again Action super PAC spent $100,000 on supportive TV ads last week, according to Federal Election Commission records.