Politics & Government

Democrat leads the pack in fundraising for retiring GOP Rep. Joe Barton’s seat

Public relations specialist Jana Lynne Sanchez is running for retiring Rep. Joe Barton’s Arlington-area congressional district.
Public relations specialist Jana Lynne Sanchez is running for retiring Rep. Joe Barton’s Arlington-area congressional district. Screenshot from Jana Lynne Sanchez’s campaign website

National Democrats aren’t targeting retiring GOP Rep. Joe Barton’s Arlington-area congressional district — but a Democrat is raising more money than both of the Republicans in the race.

Public relations specialist Jana Lynne Sanchez says she’s brought in more than $250,000 for the race, including $104,000 in the first three months of 2018. Sanchez reported $56,000 on hand as of March 31 as she heads into a May primary runoff against Ruby Woolridge.

The leading Republican fundraiser, Jake Ellzey, brought in about $96,000 in the first quarter of 2018. He’s raised a total of $196,000 for the race, and reported just under $25,000 on hand as of March 31.

Republicans also face a May primary runoff, between Ellzey and Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright.

Democrats haven’t held the seat in more than three decades, since Republican Phil Gramm changed parties in 1983. President Donald Trump carried the district by 12 percentage points in 2016, while Barton won by 25.

The national Democrats’ House campaign arm is targeting five Texas races this year, but the Sixth District isn’t among them.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declined to say why. Spokeswomen Amanda Sherman noted the committee is “seeing growing enthusiasm and support for Democrats across Texas.”

Democrats are trying to flip seats held by GOP Reps. Pete Sessions, Will Hurd and John Culberson, who represent districts 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won. They’re also targeting Rep. John Carter, whose district Trump carried by 13 percentage points, and the seat held by retiring Rep. Lamar Smith. His district supported Trump by 10 percentage points.

“I’m not convinced that it’s a true opportunity for Democrats,” said David Wasserman, House editor for nonpartisan Cook Political Report of the Barton district.

“If it were only Arlington that would be one thing,” said Wasserman. “I think the suburban parts of the district probably make it too Republican for Democrats to have a chance at, even if the Senate race is competitive.”

The district includes part of Tarrant County, as well as all of Ellis and Navarro counties, which voted for Trump at 71 percent and 73 percent, respectively.

Still, in his final years as a congressman, Barton appeared to be preparing for the district’s demographic makeup to change.

He supported the Dream Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants brought into the country illegally by their parents. The move was viewed as an outreach to the district’s expanding Hispanic population, which grew from five to 22 percent in the years since Barton was first elected.

Sanchez and Woolridge launched their campaigns when Barton was still planning to seek re-election, giving them a head start on fundraising. The Republicans, Ellzey and Wright, joined the race after Barton announced in November he would retire.

National Republicans are confident whichever candidate emerges from the May GOP runoff will easily hold the seat in November.

Wright has the backing of the conservative Club for Growth, which often spends in primaries for safe Republican seats, but has yet to spend for Wright.

He finished first in the March primary, taking 45 percent in an 11-way race. Ellzey took 22 percent.

In the first quarter of 2018, Wright raised roughly $52,000, and reported $9,000 on hand. His campaign also reported that it was $137,000 in debt, drawing criticism from Ellzey that Wright was undermining his own credentials as a fiscal conservative.

Wright’s campaign brushed off the criticism, insisting he would have all the resources needed to win the May 22 runoff.

"[W]e have a grassroots team [Ellzey] can't match, and volunteers working on our behalf daily," said Wright’s campaign manager, Micah Cavanaugh.

Ellzey also reported about $20,000 in campaign debt.

Democrats say their candidates in both Texas and other states are enjoying a fundraising boom from a base that’s fired up from Trump’s 2016 victory.

That year Woolridge raised $27,000 for a race against Barton. This year she’s already brought in more than triple that amount, with seven months to go before the election.

Sanchez has hired a professional fundraiser, as well as big-name campaign staff to help her bring a longshot race online. She’s also been filmed for a documentary about first-time female candidates, which could be released before Election Day.

She and her campaign workers have knocked on an estimated 13,000 doors. The campaign has received more than 6,000 donations averaging $42.

Out-of-state liberal donors have shelled out big for Democrats in a handful of special elections since Trump took office. Sanchez says 11 percent of her donations came from people who live in the district and 41 percent came from donors in Texas.

Woolridge did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Nationwide, 40 Democratic challengers outraised GOP House incumbents in the first quarter of 2018.

That list included one of Hurd’s Democratic challengers, Gina Ortiz-Jones, and one of Carter’s Democratic challengers, MJ Hegar. Both also face primary runoffs this month.

In Texas’s Senate race, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, nearly doubled GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s first quarter haul, $6.7 million to $3.2 million. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed that race in a dead heat.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch