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.
"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.
The winner of each primary, or runoff if needed, will face each other in the Nov. 6 general election.
Here's a look at how the votes were falling Tuesday night.
Wright, Tarrant County's tax assessor collector who once worked for Barton, drew 45 percent and Ellzey, a retired Navy pilot and member of the Texas Veterans Commission, claimed 24 percent, with 35 of 776 precincts reporting.
At the same time, Mark Mitchell, a doctor/attorney/homebuilder and small business owner, picked up 5 percent; Ken Cope, a 64-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel and retired aerospace executive from Arlington, garnered 7 percent; and Deborah Gagliardi, an engineer/contractor/architect from Arlington, accrued 3 percent.
Troy Ratterree, CEO of Compressed Air Systems, drew 3 percent; Kevin Harrison, a pastor and college founder, claimed 3 percent; Shannon Dubberly, an IT project manager, picked up 4 percent; and Shawn Dandridge, a network engineer, garnered 1 percent.
Thomas Dillingham, a technology consultant, accrued 1 percent; Mel Hassell drew less than 1 percent.
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Here's a look at the votes late Tuesday.
Woolridge, a longtime community activist and education counselor who ran for this seat two years ago, picked up 38 percent of the vote. Sanchez, a communications consultant who has captured the attention of Democrats across the country, claimed 36 percent of the vote, with 25 of 776 precincts reporting.
Levii R. Shocklee, a contracting officer for a private company who formerly served in the Navy, drew 6 percent, John W. Duncan, a compliance officer, accrued 14 percent; and Justin Snider, a locksmith and small business owner, garnered 6 percent.
Other congressional races
Here's a look at some other local contested congressional primary races:
District 24: Incumbent U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, has an early lead, claiming 73 percent of the vote to challenger Jonathan Davidson's 27 percent. On the Democratic side, Jan McDowell took an early lead, with 53 percent. Edward "Todd" Allen claimed 20 percent, John Biggan drew 21 percent and Josh Imhof picked up 6 percent, with 25 of 1,683 precincts reporting.
District 26: Incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Pilot Point, jumped out in front with 76 percent of the vote to challenger Veronica Birkenstock's 24 percent. On the Democratic side, Will Fisher drew 52 percent and Linsey Fagan claimed 48 percent, with 25 of 1,683 precincts reporting.
District 33: Incumbent U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, also took an early lead, claiming 75 percent of the vote to the 2 percent claimed by challenger Carlos Quintanilla, with 24 of 1,503 precincts reporting.
The next step for candidates who make it to the runoff, political observers say, is to spend the next two months reaching out to primary voters and encouraging them to head back to the polls in May.
"Primary elections and runoffs are about turnout," said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. "Now it's all about having the organization and contact skills to get your voters to turn out.
"The people who do that the most effectively will win the nomination from their parties."
It just won't be easy, said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
"It is always a challenge to bring voters back, but very committed followers will show up again ... (at a) much lower overall turnout," he said.
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