After nearly winning outright, Wright campaign takes on debt, launches attacks

Ron Wright and Jake Ellzey face off in the May 22 primary runoff to determine which Republican moves forward to the Nov. 6 general election. Both are running for the 6th Congressional District.
Ron Wright and Jake Ellzey face off in the May 22 primary runoff to determine which Republican moves forward to the Nov. 6 general election. Both are running for the 6th Congressional District. Courtesy

Well-funded outside groups, local and national party officials and top Republican party operatives have rallied behind Tarrant County Tax-Assessor Ron Wright as the man to take his former boss’s seat in Congress.

Yet Wright, who spent more than a decade working for retiring GOP Rep. Joe Barton, has gone nearly $160,000 in campaign debt fending off other Republicans in the race.

His campaign launched mailers this week attacking fellow Republican Jake Ellzey, who is also competing for his party’s nomination the May 22 runoff.

Ellzey is a former Navy fighter pilot and political newcomer who won 22 percent in the March primary.

Wright took 45 percent in that race, nearly notching the nomination outright in the 11-way race.

He emptied his campaign account and then some in that contest — including $51,000 for mail ads, paid to GOP mega-firm Axiom Strategies.

“At any point in time in a campaign, depending on what has been done, you’ll have unpaid invoices,” Wright said of the debt in an interview with the Star-Telegram last week.

Ellzey raised more money than Wright in the first quarter of 2018, which ended March 31.

Wright has rapidly picked up the pace since then, nearly doubling Ellzey’s haul in the past month.

Barton hosted events for his former staffer both in the district and at a Republican social club blocks away from the Capitol in Washington in recent weeks.

Wright also got assistance from a well-heeled Washington conservative group, the Club for Growth, which directed $15,000 to his campaign in the last month.

Still, with two weeks to go before the runoff, Wright’s campaign account is roughly $110,000 short of what he’s already spent. His campaign’s financial disclosures show he’s spent money on polling, consultants and fundraising expenses.

The poll, conducted at the end of April, showed Wright leading Ellzey by double digits.

In these final weeks, though, Wright’s campaign is spending money to attack Ellzey.

Mailers from his campaign shared with the Star-Telegram this week say Ellzey opposes a border wall, and accuses him of “doubletalk” on illegal immigration. They also promote Wright as a champion of tough border security measures,

Ellzey’s campaign manager Cameron Cowger said in a statement that Ellzey supports a border wall and “opposes amnesty.”

Ellzey also owes his campaign about $5,000. His campaign is currently running television ads, while Wright’s is not.

In an interview at the Dove’s Nest in Waxahachie this month, Ellzey described the challenges of running as a first-time candidate for federal office.

His campaign parted ways with one of its top operatives shortly after the primary. That consultant, Brian Mayes, later said he would help Wright in the runoff.

Before Barton had announced his plans to retire in November, Ellzey said Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O’Hare cautioned him that Wright would also be running for the seat, and would have significant support from Tarrant County’s elected officials. O’Hare confirmed that account to the Star-Telegram Friday.

Ellzey reported about $15,000 in the bank as of May 2. He told the Star-Telegram his campaign would not take on additional debt.

Republicans expect to hold the seat with either candidate. President Donald Trump carried the district by 12 percentage points in 2016.

shut up!"

Democrats will choose between two candidates, Ruby Faye Woolridge and Jana Lynne Sanchez, in this month's runoff. Sanchez bested both Republican candidates in fundraising earlier this year.

Ellzey ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat in 2014. He has the backing of former Gov. Rick Perry, who made a radio ad for the campaign.

Ellzey traveled this month to Miami with three other candidates who are veterans. His donor list includes Dallas investor Doug Deason, a major contributor to the Koch network.

Wright, a veteran of North Texas politics, touts a long list of elected officials backing his campaign, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and state Sen. Konni Burton.

Wright's campaign is run being run by strategists at Axiom Strategies, a firm led by Cruz's presidential campaign manager Jeff Roe. He also uses Cruz's pollster, WPA Intelligence.

Before working for Barton, Wright served as an Arlington City Council member and mayor pro-tem, non-partisan roles.

This month his congressional campaign received the maximum allowed donation from Texas oil billionaire Farris Wilks, whose group Empower Texans spent big against moderate Republicans in the state legislature this year.

Andrea Drusch: adrusch@mcclatchydc.com; @AndreaDrusch