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Trump-backed candidate runs into the runoff in the special congressional election in Texas

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The US Capitol dome can be seen in Washington

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Republican from Texas, backed by former President Donald Trump, has qualified for a runoff to fill a vacancy in the US House of Representatives after her husband’s death while Democrats appeared to be at risk of competition to be excluded.

Susan Wright, whose husband Ron Wright became the first seated member of Congress to die of COVID-19 in February, was the top pick on Saturday in a crowded field of 23 candidates vying to represent the state’s 6th Congressional District.

Wright appeared to face another Republican in the expected runoff election in the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth, a long-standing Republican district.

The Democrats had hoped to take the seat to expand their slim house majority.

Wright received 19.2% of the vote, followed by former military pilot Jake Ellzey, another Republican who drew 13.8%, according to the Texas Secretary of State. Only 354 votes and less than half a percentage point separated Ellzey from the Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, who was third with 13.4%.

“The Democrats have come a long way towards Texas, but tonight it shows that we still have a long way to go,” wrote Sanchez, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, on Twitter.

A runoff election between the two top voters is required as no candidate received a majority in the first round. An expiration date has not yet been set.

In a bizarre twist on the eve of the election, Wright’s campaign urged federal law enforcement to investigate reports of robocalls falsely claiming she murdered her husband.

The election marked the first test of the Texas electorate since President Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020. Trump defeated Biden in Texas, a state where Democrats are hoping for progress.

The result could deprive the Democrats of their best attempt at winning a Republican seat in the House of Representatives in several special elections scheduled for this year to replace House members who have either died or assumed positions in Biden’s administration.

The national Democratic Party did not endorse a candidate for the competition, despite the fact that the Democrats have made profits in the North Texas District in recent years. Trump won the district by 3 percentage points last year.

“Democrats didn’t get their people out, and then as they did they split many Democratic votes,” said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University.

Jones said Trump’s endorsement, just days before the election, appeared to have helped Wright.

There were 10 Democrats in the running and 11 Republicans, one independent and one libertarian. Every seat in the House of Representatives counts as the Democrats currently have a slim majority of six seats and will fight to retain control of both houses of Congress in the 2022 mid-term elections.

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