Let’s make sure someone gets to the runoff, then we can worry about that.
Democrats running to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, believe they can flip the seat in an unpredictable off-year special election. But Democrats at large are not as sure — or willing to say it out loud.
That is becoming clear as campaigning ramps up for the May 1 contest, when 23 candidates — including 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats — will be on the ballot in Texas’ 6th Congressional District. With so many contenders, the race is likely to go to a mid-summer runoff, and Democrats involved hope they can secure a second-round spot on their way to turning the district blue.
While Democrats have cause for optimism — the district has rapidly trended blue in recent presidential election results — some are urging caution. They are mindful of a few factors, not the least of which is a 2020 election cycle in which high Democratic expectations culminated in deep disappointment throughout the ballot.
“We’re not counting our chickens before they hatch and we’re gonna work to earn every vote,” said Abhi Rahman, a Texas Democratic strategist who previously worked for the state party. “This is not a bellwether. This is the first of many battles that will eventually lead to Texas turning blue.”
With just under a month until early voting begins, national Democrats are showing few outward signs that they are ready to engage in the race, even as candidates and their supporters press the case that the district is flippable. They point out that Trump carried the district by only 3 percentage points in November after winning it by 12 points in 2016. Mitt Romney carried the district by 17 points in 2012.
“It absolutely is a competitive race,” said Stephen Daniel, the 2020 Democratic nominee for the seat, who opted against running in the special election. He added he thinks that national Democrats need “to get involved because I think the more resources you have to get out there and help you reach these voters can only help.”
On the flip side, Wright, who died in February weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus, won the seat when it was open in 2018 by 8 points and by 9 points in 2020. Both times the seat was a target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, though the designation came late in the cycle and the group did not spend significant money in either election.
And while Trump carried the district by only 3 points in November, every other statewide Republican candidate, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, won it by more comfortable margins ranging from 6 to 8 points.
Yes, it’s a big field, and Democratic-aligned groups like Emily’s List are currently staying neutral since there are multiple female candidates and they don’t usually take sides in that kind of situation. (The AFL-CIO endorsed Lydia Bean, so not everyone is biding their time.) For what it’s worth, there have been a couple of polls released so far, the first on behalf of Jana Sanchez showing her comfortably in second place (and thus in the runoff) and the second on behalf of Lydia Bean that also showed Sanchez in second place but with about half the support and much closer to both Bean and to GOPer Jake Ellzey. Both have Susan Wright, the widow of Rep. Ron Wright, in first place. While I agree that Susan Wright is the likely frontrunner, I would caution you to not take any CD06 poll too seriously.
The Dem candidates so far are being cordial to one another, which is the right strategic move at this time. The best outcome from a strictly utilitarian perspective is for one of them to separate from the pack and be in good position to make it to overtime. After that, I do think there should be an investment by the national players in this race, if only to keep pace with the GOP entrant. Special elections in reasonably mixed districts are all about turnout, and it wouldn’t take that much to sneak past the finish line. By any reasonable objective, this is a Lean R district, but it’s far from hopeless. Step one is having someone to be there for the runoff. Everything else is just details.