Former president Donald Trump has upended the special election to replace a Texas Republican who died from the coronavirus.
The twice-impeached one-term president endorsed Susan Wright, a GOP activist and widow of the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX), in a major test of his juice with voters following his election loss and subsequent attempts to overturn those results, reported CNN and Politico.
"The reality with Trump is that Trump had tons of supporters, but he also has a lot of people that were not as heavy supporters from both parties," said Rick Barnes, the Tarrant County GOP chair and a Wright backer. "A lot of people have moved on, beyond all of that, realizing that that future may or may not include Trump, and so we can't continue to sit around and let that be the lead conversation."
Polling shows Wright and former Trump health official Brian Harrison likely to make it into a runoff with anti-Trump state Rep. Jake Ellzey and Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, but the 23-candidate race also includes former pro wrestler Dan Rodimer, former Trump official Sery Kim and anti-Trump Republican Michael Wood.
"Anything's possible with such a crowded field, but I don't think there's much indication that a large chunk of Republican voters are clamoring for an avowedly anti-Trump option right now -- even in a district where Republican performance has dipped in the Trump era," said University of Virginia election analyst Kyle Kondik.
Republican candidates have been forced to address Trump's claims that the election was stolen from him and weigh in on the Jan. 6 insurrection, and that has been the litmus test for GOP voters.
"Who knows who was in that crowd? No one knows," Kim said. "That's what the media is saying is that 100 percent of the people there were Trump people. You know D.C., people are curious when they see a lot of people walking around. They join in to go in. You see people who are anti-Trump go to Trump rallies to incite Trump supporters as well."
But Wood has tried to push back, although he hasn't met much success with his message.
"Nancy Pelosi did not charter a whole bunch of buses to bring in Antifa to the Capitol to break in the windows to create some sort of false flag operation to make the Republican Party look bad," Wood said. "Why am I being accused of being sort of a fringe candidate because I'm against insurrection?"