Republicans Susan Wright and state Rep. Jake Ellzey will advance to a runoff in the special election to fill a North Texas congressional seat, NBC News projects — locking Democrats out in the first hotly contested special election of President Joe Biden's term.
Wright, the widow of Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, and a longtime activist in local GOP politics, emerged from the 23-person field as one of the top two candidates to represent the 6th Congressional District, winning more than 19 percent of the vote.
She was first to advance to the runoff. Ellzey advanced after the third-place candidate, Jana Lynne Sanchez, the leading Democrat, conceded Sunday morning. A runoff will take place because none of the candidates met the 50 percent threshold required to win outright.
As of Sunday afternoon, Ellzey held a slim lead over Sanchez, who unsuccessfully sought the seat in 2018.
"Democrats have a come a long way toward competing in Texas, but we still have a way to go," Sanchez said in a statement. "Unfortunately ... we came up short, and two Republicans will be competing to represent this congressional district."
More than 60 percent of the vote went to Republicans, and less than 40 percent went to Democrats.
A Republican has represented the district, a suburban swath of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, for more than 30 years; Ron Wright won his election last fall by about 9 points. There had been concerns going in that a Democrat could get locked out of a runoff, leaving two Republicans to compete head to head. Yet the district itself is trending leftward. As the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney won the district by 17 points, while President Donald Trump won it last fall by just 3.
The special election came about because of Ron Wright's death after he contracted Covid-19. Trump endorsed his widow just days before the election, although several Republicans were eagerly vying for his support. After she advanced to the runoff, Trump said in a statement Sunday: "Congratulations to Susan Wright on her great surge yesterday which made her NUMBER ONE and assures her participation in the TX-06 runoff against another Republican."
Wright was long considered the front-runner. Other Republicans included three former Trump administration officials — Brian Harrison, Sery Kim and Michael Egan — as well as Ellzey; anti-Trump Republican Michael Wood, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who won the backing of Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill;, and Dan Rodimer, a former professional wrestler who ran in a Nevada congressional race last year.
Late last week, the contest was roiled by a robocall that went out in the district accusing Wright of having caused her husband's death.
The call, a recording of which was obtained by NBC News, was first reported by Politico. "This is illegal, immoral, and wrong. There's not a sewer too deep that some politicians won't plumb," Wright said in a statement to Politico. The Wright campaign referred the call, the origins of which are unclear, to local and federal law enforcement.
Sanchez had been considered the front-runner on the Democratic side. Other contenders included Lydia Bean, a former state House candidate, and Shawn Lassiter, a nonprofit leader and educator.