Upcoming special elections for the U.S. House in Texas and Ohio will serve as a barometer of just how powerful former President Donald Trump’s endorsement — currently the most coveted in Republican politics — is six months after leaving office.
In his ongoing effort to cement his status as the leader of the GOP, Trump has intervened in otherwise under-the-radar intraparty contests set to take place in Texas’ 6th congressional district on Tuesday and Ohio’s 15th congressional district on Aug. 3. By doing so, he has pitted himself against some prominent national and local Republicans who are backing other candidates in the races.
Republicans around the country will be closely watching the results of those special elections to gauge Trump’s broader influence within the party when he does not possess the megaphone he once did heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
“In a Republican primary, he’s still the gold standard. Not everywhere, but just about everywhere,” Tom Davis, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said of Trump. “Now I think that diminishes each day. He’s off the air. Other people are filling that void.”
Given Trump’s overwhelming popularity in the GOP, Republican operatives say his hand-picked candidates in Texas and Ohio are in a strong position. But they note that off-year special elections typically attract little attention from voters and are unpredictable, and that other Republicans in those races have remained competitive without the former president’s stamp of approval.
Trump first endorsed conservative activist Susan Wright in the Texas race ahead of the all-party primary on May 1. She ultimately emerged from a 23-candidate field to face off against GOP state Rep. Jake Ellzey Tuesday in the runoff election, which any voter can participate in regardless of party affiliation. The winner will fill the seat opened by the death of Wright’s husband, Rep. Ronald Wright, due to complications related to COVID-19 in February.
Some prominent Republicans have followed Trump’s lead and supported Wright, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex. But several notable Republicans have lined up behind Ellzey, such as former Energy Secretary and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Tex.
Ellzey has managed to raise more than twice as much money as Wright. But the Washington-based conservative group Club for Growth has helped make up for that, spending more than $1 million on ads to boost Wright, according to a spokesman. Several of the ads have mentioned Trump’s endorsement.
Trump has gone all in for Wright in the final stretch of the race. He released three statements in July reaffirming that Wright has his “Complete and Total Endorsement.” He recorded a robocall for Wright over the weekend, identifying himself as “your hopefully all-time favorite president.” His super PAC launched an ad on Wright’s behalf. And he held a tele-town hall for Wright Monday evening.
“The only way to stop Joe Biden from running our great country right into the ground is to elect conservatives like Susan Wright,” Trump says in the robocall.