The results from the TX-06 special election are in, and they were shocking. With a 23-candidate field and a 50%+1 threshold to win outright, it was no surprise that the TX-06 is headed to a runoff. What is a surprise is who is in that runoff. Republicans managed to clinch the top two spots, with Susan Wright – the widow of the late Representative Ron Wright – leading the pack at 19.2% and Jake Ellzey pulling second with 13.9%. In third place was Jana Sanchez (13.4%), the leading Democratic candidate and a presumed lock for the runoff prior to election night.
What was once seen as a potentially competitive race is now a Republican vs. Republican one, where Democrats have literally no chance of success. In this Trump+3 seat, the next Representative will certainly be a Republican – and that’s not the only reason Democrats should be concerned.
The Generic Ballot
After combining all the candidates for each party, the Republican dominance becomes clear. In November, Ron Wright won the seat by a nearly nine-point margin, so it’s not a shock that Republicans could outperform the top of the ticket. But if anyone told you they expected Republican candidates to receive nearly 25 percentage points more votes than Democrats, you’d probably have said they were joking.
This result isn’t just due to strong Republican performances in exurban Ellis and Navarro counties, where they outran Trump’s November performance by 24.2% and 16.2%, respectively. Republicans also won the Tarrant County portion of the district by eight percent; for comparison, Biden had won that same portion by over 12%. This is more than a double-digit swing and has to be concerning for Democrats relying on suburban swings to continue, or at least stay put. This result also applied to lower-level nonpartisan mayoral races in Democratic-trending cities like Arlington and Fort Worth, where Republican-affiliated candidates secured a majority of the vote.
Shawn Lassiter blocks Jana Sanchez from runoff
One of the more surprising aspects of the night’s results was the performance of Shawn Lassiter. Most analysts covering the race had focused on Lydia Bean as the other Democratic candidate with the best potential for a strong showing – Bean had been endorsed by the Tarrant County AFL-CIO. Instead, Bean finished eighth (3.7%) while Lassiter recorded a strong fifth-place showing (8.9%), second-best among Democrats in the TX-06 special election. Lassiter, a black woman, appeared to perform strongest around African-American precincts in Tarrant County. Sanchez had finished in the top-two in all pre-election polls while Lassiter had generally polled below 5%, so this result was a surprise.
This result is reminiscent of a previous special election in Georgia. Most pre-election polls in 2020 had failed to include Deborah Jackson and instead focused on candidates like Matt Lieberman or Ed Tarver. However, Jackson surprised many by pulling 6.6% of the vote in the jungle primary, good for fourth overall. Like Lassiter, Jackson was a black woman candidate and performed well in majority-black areas. If this trend continues, it might be worth reconsidering polling practices in jungle primaries with a substantial black electorate.
Media-supported and viral candidates flopped
While the top candidates had long been known, a handful of candidates received far more media attention than their election day performance warranted. These include:
- Lydia Bean (8th-place, 3.6%) – Endorsed by major labor organizations, including the Tarrant County AFL-CIO, the UAW, and the Teamsters.
- Michael Wood (9th-place, 3.2%) – Anti-Trump Republican endorsed by Adam Kinzinger.
- Dan Rodimer (11th-place, 2.7%) – Pro-Trump carpetbagger who received coverage for his viral announcement ad.
- Sery Kim (16th-place, 1.13%) – Gained notoriety for racist anti-Chinese comments.
With the field now determined, the runoff in TX-06 will be closely-watched even without the prospect of a Democratic victory. Susan Wright enters as the favorite here, carrying the endorsement of most Republicans in the district. She also has support from former President Trump and Elise Stefanik’s EPAC. Ellzey has a strong base in Ellis County, but he’ll need more than that with the brunt of the vote coming from Tarrant County. Democratic voters may play a deciding role here, as even without a candidate they still make up a sizable chunk of the electorate. Whether they back the Trump-endorsed Wright or more conservative Ellzey remains to be seen.
All eyes now turn to the special election for NM-01, which will be held on June 1. This Biden+23 seat shouldn’t be competitive and could be a more tangible indication of the outlook for 2022. It’s not usual to see parties run close in seats like this; hitting 45% would probably be a good night for Republicans there. But if it is close, expect alarm bells to start going off in the DCCC headquarters.