Voters deciding replacement for Texas congressman who died of COVID-19

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AUSTIN, Texas (NewsNation Now) — The widow of a Texas congressman who died after contracting COVID-19 carried Donald Trump’s endorsement into a special election Saturday, while Democrats and GOP critics of the former president hoped voters would instead send a surprising message to the rest of the U.S.

The race has drawn only modest attention beyond Texas’ 6th Congressional District, which includes the booming corridor between Dallas and Fort Worth. Still, it poses an early test of suburban voters since Trump left office.

Trump waited until just days before the election to endorse Susan Wright, a GOP activist and widow of the late Rep. Ron Wright, who in February became the first sitting member of Congress to die after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Susan Wright had already been seen as a favorite in a crowded race to fill the seat of her late husband, who won the district by 9 points in November.

Of the 23 candidates running, 11 are Republicans. Most of the Republicans in the running have made flagrant appeals to Trump and his supporters in a race that at times has resembled a typical Texas GOP primary. The lone exception is Michael Wood, a combat veteran whose campaign has become an early test for Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who is trying to lead a revolt in his party away from Trump.

Wright perhaps won Trump’s endorsement because her late husband voted against certifying the electoral college result in January, and it could help her to galvanize support.

“I’m so proud to be the only candidate in this race President Trump trusts to be his ally in our fight to make America great again,” Wright said in a statement.

“We’ll find out a little bit about how much his endorsement matters because he waited not until the last minute but very close to it to endorse Susan Wright,” said Dave Weigel, who covers politics for the Washington Post.

Weigel sees the endorsement as a defeat for other Republicans in the race, including former Trump Department of Health and Human Services chief of staff Brian Harrison.

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“There are candidates who have been running for weeks as the Trump candidate; the one with the credibility, the one who would work for him, so we’ll learn how Republicans voters sift out the part they like most about his legacy,” Weigel said.

It’s likely that Saturday’s top two finishers will advance to a runoff if no one captures more than half of the vote. Weigel sees the race as well also as a test for Democrats in Texas. 

For Democrats, the district is one they ambitiously considered a target in 2020. Ten Democrats are on the ballot, but nationally, the party and its allies have steered clear of the race after their massive expectations for Texas last year again ended in a demoralizing showing.

As of now, Jana Lynne Sanchez, who lost to the late congressman in 2018, and Shawn Lassiter have been seen as the frontrunners among Democrats in this district that President Biden lost only narrowly with 48% of the vote.

If there is a need for one, a runoff will be held no earlier than May 24.

In Louisiana, a special election in March ended with Republican Julia Letlow easily winning a race to fill a U.S. House seat that her husband, Luke, couldn’t fill because of his death from complications related to COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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