May 15, 2021

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3 election takeaways: Trump king of GOP, Mayor Johnson’s political setback, Dems humbled in CD-6 – The Dallas Morning News

5 min read

Saturday’s partisan and municipal elections provided lots of fodder for political observers, so here is a look at three of the biggest ones.

Michael Wood shot at the king and missed.

Make no mistake about it, Donald Trump is king of the Republican Party, including in Texas.

Wood, a Marine veteran and businessman, campaigned to replace Ron Wright in North Texas’ Congressional District 6 as the anti-Trump candidate. He didn’t back away from it. At times facing groans and jeers, Wood told voters that the Republican Party needed to move away from Trump.

“This is not how I wanted to enter the political arena. However, my fellow Republicans, there is a sickness in our party that must be acknowledged and addressed,” Wood wrote Sunday. “We are too much a cult of personality and a vehicle for the grievances of Donald Trump.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., right, stands with Texas congressional candidate Michael Wood after they met for lunch, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. Wood is considered the anti-Trump Republican Texas congressional candidate that Kinzinger has endorsed in the May 1st special election for the 6th Congressional District. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., right, stands with Texas congressional candidate Michael Wood after they met for lunch, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. Wood is considered the anti-Trump Republican Texas congressional candidate that Kinzinger has endorsed in the May 1st special election for the 6th Congressional District. (AP Photo/LM Otero)(LM Otero)

He finished with a little over 3% of the vote in a 23-person race. His message was soundly rejected.

Unknown to most voters, Wood didn’t have much of a shot to win the contest, even if he’d left Trump out of his talking points.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, endorsed Wood and gave him some spare change from his newly formed political action committee. But while Kinzinger helped Wood get some national press, trotting out an Illinois surrogate in a Texas Republican arena is like eating picante from New York City. It doesn’t work.

Now Wood, who insists he’s a conservative, is locked out of the political process as a partisan candidate. You can’t be successful in Texas as an anti-Trump Republican, which means he’ll have to be content with a role as a lonely crusader, until Trump fades from the scene.

“I do not know what is next for me,” Wood said Sunday in a statement. “I do know that I do not have it in me to stop fighting for my country.”

That every Republican candidate on the District 6 ballot wanted Trump’s backing tells you about the direction of the party. Susan Wright scored Trump’s endorsement, which helped catapult her to a first-place finish. She’ll meet state Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, in a runoff that will likely be staged in July once Gov. Greg Abbott sets a date.

Barring some unforeseen development or legal entanglement, Trump will continue to dominate GOP politics. He’ll get involved in 2022 congressional races, where Republicans will be favored to take control of the U.S. House. They’ll also be competitive in Senate contests.

With a GOP-controlled House and a few congressional victories in tow, Trump will make the case for a return match against President Joe Biden or another Democrat in 2024.

It’s his Republican Party.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson tried to buck history and he lost.

Johnson, in his first term as Dallas mayor, endorsed two challengers against first-term incumbents, a political move rarely done in local politics.

His picks for council didn’t make it to the second round.

Adam Bazaldua, Dallas City Council District 7 candidate, smiles with his mother Pam Bradford (left) as they looks at results during an election night watch party at Eight Bells Alehouse Dallas, Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Elias Valverde II / Special Contributor)
Adam Bazaldua, Dallas City Council District 7 candidate, smiles with his mother Pam Bradford (left) as they looks at results during an election night watch party at Eight Bells Alehouse Dallas, Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Elias Valverde II / Special Contributor)(Elias Valverde II / Special Contributor)

There is precedent for mayors backing losing candidates.

In 2003 Mayor Laura Miller backed three candidates in council races. They all lost. Like Johnson, she didn’t get along with some council members.

During his term, Mike Rawlings didn’t officially get involved in council races, but one of his political consultants directed a political action committee called For Our Community. That PAC slated candidates aligned with Rawlings and the city’s business elite, and the effort had mixed results. Rawlings had to repair relationships with candidates who overcame his consultant’s PAC.

Bottom line: No matter how influential they think they are, mayors should be wary of getting involved in council races.

Here’s the problem: Dallas mayors don’t have the patronage or the machinery inside individual council districts to assure victory. In a city like Chicago, the partisan political machine can often muscle candidates to victory. In Dallas, which has a nonpartisan council-manager form of government, mayors can be viewed by council voters as an outsider, or their involvement in a race can rally the opposition. In District 5, incumbent Jaime Resendez was energized by Johnson’s backing of challenger Yolanda Williams, who finished third.

In District 7, incumbent Adam Bazaldua finished first and is in a runoff with former council member Kevin Felder. The mayor’s choice, Donald Parish Jr. finished a close third. Voter turnout in both districts was paltry, which gives the advantage to the incumbent.

A council race is almost always a family affair, where mayors don’t belong. Johnson’s council candidates got all of the negative baggage from his endorsements and very little of what makes the mayor a successful candidate. After all, they have to run their own races. He’s not on the ballot.

No matter what the outcome in these council races would have been, Johnson has to get council members on board with his agenda, whether they like each other or not.

Jana Sanchez’s failure to make the Congressional District 6 runoff was disappointing and embarrassing for Texas Democrats, but it saved them from what would have been a miserable outcome in a runoff. Sanchez had no chance against Wright or any other major Republican in the race.

Democrats appeared powerless to stop 10 candidates from getting into the 23-person race. It resulted in their party’s base vote being split among several contenders. Most notably, Fort Worth educator Shawn Lassiter, a first-time candidate, got nearly 9% of the vote. Lydia Bean, a 2020 Texas House candidate, got 4%.

Democrat Jana Sanchez, left, talks with members of her staff, from left, campaign manager Rhonna-Rose Akama-Makia (cq), volunteer Madi Butler and director of field operations, Matt Cargile while awaiting election returns in the District 6 Special election on Saturday May 1, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Robert W. Hart/Special Contributor)
Democrat Jana Sanchez, left, talks with members of her staff, from left, campaign manager Rhonna-Rose Akama-Makia (cq), volunteer Madi Butler and director of field operations, Matt Cargile while awaiting election returns in the District 6 Special election on Saturday May 1, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Robert W. Hart/Special Contributor)(Robert W. Hart / Special Contributor)

The District 6 race shows the difficulty of Democrats finding a candidate to appeal to multiple demographics. Sanchez was strongest with Hispanic voters and she has residual name recognition from her 2018 candidacy in the district, where she was her party’s nominee.

But Sanchez failed to gain traction with Black voters, a core segment of the Democratic Party base.

In 2020, Democratic Party Senate nominee MJ Hegar didn’t have outreach in communities of color, which put her at a disadvantage against incumbent Republican John Cornyn.

The good news for Democrats is that Lassiter could be of value to Democrats in future races.

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