FORT WORTH, Texas -- Republican Tarrant County Tax Assessor Collector Ron Wright jumped out to an early lead Tuesday night -- as did Democrats Jana Lynne Sanchez and Ruby Faye Woolridge -- in battles to win their party's nomination to replace Joe Barton in Congress.
In the GOP primary, Wright quickly claimed 45 percent of the vote early on, followed closest by J.K. "Jake" Ellzey. Every other candidate in the race lagged behind in single digits.
On the Democrat's side, the race was up in the air when Woolridge drew 38 percent of the vote and Sanchez claimed 36 percent, with just a fraction of the precincts reporting.
Both sides of this crowded race -- made up of 11 Republicans and five Democrats -- may well head to a May 22 primary runoff if no candidate on either side claims 50 percent of the vote plus one.
It's little surprise that the race to replace Barton was so crowded, political observers say, because it's not often that incumbents leave Congress.
This is the first time in more than three decades that Barton, R-Ennis, wasn't on the ballot running for the 6th Congressional District.
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"Increasingly, once members of Congress are elected, they stay there a long time," said Tom Marshall, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. "Openings are rare.
"If this (job) is what you are shooting for, this might be the last moment of opportunity for 20 to 30 years."
Barton -- who came under fire last year for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones with a female constituent -- announced in November that he would not seek another term in office.
At stake in this race is a two-year term that pays $174,000 a year representing a district that includes part of east and southwest Fort Worth, most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.