Jake Ellzey was not the favorite in the runoff to replace Ron Wright.
Ellzey’s opponent Susan Wright is a longtime Republican activist and widow of Ron Wright. She was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.
So how did Ellzey win this unusual contest where two Republican candidates faced off?
Donald Trump’s Megaphone Is Quieter Than When He Was President
Trump’s endorsement has been desired by almost every Republican candidate. So, does Susan Wright’s loss mean Trump’s endorsement is now a negative? Not quite, according to Southern Methodist University political communications professor Stephanie Martin.
“We normally think of endorsements as something that a candidate gets and it gives them a news cycle, it gives them a lot of media coverage for one day,” Martin said. “When Donald Trump was president, he was very good at getting media coverage all the time.”
Now out of office, and banned from Facebook and Twitter, that’s no longer true. Martin says it’s too soon to say if Trump’s overall influence is waning.
Campaign Ad Controversy
Ellzey credited his win to an upbeat campaign modeled after another former president.
“A positive outlook, a Reagan Republican outlook for the future of our country, is what the people of the sixth district really, really want,” Ellzey said during his victory speech. “When I say I’m a Reagan Republican… I remember he didn’t say anything bad about anybody.”
One point of contention in the race was a group of anti-Ellzey ads sponsored by a national conservative organization called The Club for Growth.
Former District 6 Representative Joe Barton said allowing those ads to run was a bad campaign decision on Susan Wright’s part.
He endorsed Ellzey, but calls Wright a friend.
“Susan is a decent person. I would have shown that side of her and put her out in schools and day care centers because she’s a very empathetic woman,” Barton said. “Instead, they ran a very negative campaign against Jake and it backfired on them.”
He said that’s not the way to reach voters.
“You don’t go out to vote against people. You go to vote for people,” Barton said. “And average voters, they chose Jake.”
Possible Democratic Votes
With two Republicans challenging each other, this wasn’t your average runoff. Still, SMU political scientist Stephanie Martin said Democrats may have played a role in Ellzey’s win.
“Any Democrats who showed up to vote, voted for the more moderate, if such a thing exists,” Martin said. “Ellzey benefited from all the moderate votes that came in.”
A bonus weapon Ellzey had in his political arsenal: money.
Martin said despite Susan Wright starting out ahead, Ellzey ended his run around $1 million ahead.
But Ellzey will need to do it all over again in a year. That’s when the regular two-year congressional campaign cycle starts over.
KERA’s Gabrielle Jones and Miranda Suarez contributed to this story.