The battle to replace Joe Barton in Congress could soon be as hot as the Texas summer as fundraising ramps up, likely catapulting this into a multimillion dollar race.
Fundraising slowed after the May 22 primary runoff election, but Republican Ron Wright out-raised Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez in the fight for the 6th Congressional District during the second quarter of this year.
However, Sanchez has out-raised Wright since the runoff election, $96,913 to $91,566, and had more cash on hand by the end of June, according to new Federal Election Commission reports.
“That’s an insignificant difference in a general election that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Wright, Tarrant County’s Tax Assessor Collector. “This is a marathon. It’s not a 100-yard dash. What matters is where you end up.”
But Sanchez said current fundraising numbers are important in a district that has been a GOP stronghold for decades.
“I think it’s really significant that I’m ahead of my Republican opponent,” she said. “It all comes down to viability. I wouldn’t be able to raise any money if people didn’t think this district was winnable.”
All this comes at a time that many predict this district, which President Donald Trump carried by 12 percentage points in 2016, will remain red.
But the district, represented by Barton since 1985, was recently named a tossup — and one of only four districts in Texas likely to flip from Republican to Democrat in November — by The Economist.
At stake in this race is a two-year term that pays $174,000 a year representing a district that includes part of east and southwest Fort Worth, most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.
Barton, who came under fire last year for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones with a female constituent, announced in November that he would not seek another term in office.
Wright and Sanchez face off in the Nov. 6 general election.
Thereports show that Wright raised $91,566, spent $115,248 and had $25,157 in cash on hand between May and June. He also still has $107,415 in outstanding debt, FEC records show.
During the overall second quarter of the year, Wright raised $155,912.
He picked up donations from some with ties to Tarrant County, including $250 from Constable Clint Burgess and $250 from Tarrant County Sheriff Chief of Staff David McClelland, as well as contributions from former state Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Arlington, and state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington.
But the biggest donations came from political action committees, such as the National Apartment Association, House Freedom Fund and Majority Committee PAC, which each donated $5,000.
Wright’s campaign just created a new finance team that will be headed by Bunni Pounds, who has more than a decade of experience with Republican campaigns and fundraising. On her website, she says she’s raised more than $10 million for congressional candidates and other events.
Pounds made her own bid for office this year, hoping to replace the retiring Jeb Hensarling in representing the 5th Congressional District. But she lost a GOP primary runoff to Lance Gooden.
“We’re very excited,” Wright said. “She’s a very prolific fundraiser for candidates.”
Wright recently was named to the National Republican Congressional Committe’s Young Guns ‘Vanguard’ program, which helps candidates across the country seeking Republican-leaning open seats.
Wright said he took some time off after the primary runoff, but attended Republican gatherings, parades and the state Republican convention in San Antonio this summer.
Now, he said, the campaign is ramping back up, particularly walking neighborhoods, working to spread the word about his campaign door-to-door.
“August gets busy,” he said. “Come September, it gets really intense and stays that way until the election.”
Sanchez raised $96,913, spent $70,437 and had $67,772 in cash on hand between May and June, the documents show.
During the overall second quarter of the year, Sanchez raised $115,830.
Many of her donations came through ActBlue, a Democratic online fundraising platform. Overall, she said she’s received nearly 9,000 small donations with an average of $42 per donation.
Sanchez — a public relations specialist who drew national attention last year after Rosie O’Donnell retweeted a fundraising request — said she expects to raise even more money now, particularly since she, too, has staffed up.
She has a goal of raising $1.5 million before the general election.
She said she’s hired a new media director and more field staff to help block walk and share the word about her campaign. She also is in talks with a potential campaign manager with national experience.
“Now that people understand the district is in play, we think it will be easier to raise money,” said Sanchez, who recently held a ‘thank you” event for Democrats in Ellis County for helping her win the May 22 primary runoff over Ruby Faye Woolridge. She also held a general election campaign kickoff in Arlington last week.
Sanchez recently was sued by Woolridge, who claimed that Sanchez “knowingly filed petitions with fraudulent signatures” to secure a spot on the March primary ballot. Sanchez has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Woolridge filed the lawsuit hoping to hurt her reputation and cause her to lose the general election.
“The lawsuit is a half-baked recipe of a tablespoon of hearsay, a dash of rumor, a cup of speculation, and a pound of revenge,” according to legal documents Sanchez filed asking for the suit to be dismissed.
Sanchez acknowledges that Wright has greater name ID than she did. But she said that’s not always a good thing.
“Not all name recognition is positive,” Sanchez said. “We are doing a lot of block walking to let people know who I am and what I stand for. I did it in the primary and I’ll do it again.
“What we are hearing from voters is that they are ready for change and they are not looking for more of the same.”