What the Special Election in Texas Means for Women Candidates

In 3 days, Texas will hold a special election to decide who will represent its 6th Congressional district in the U.S. House. Following Republican Congressman Ron Wright’s passing from COVID-19 earlier this year, there are currently 23 candidates in the running for the newly open seat. This will be an important election to watch for Democrats who will hope to advance in the Texas electorate. It’s also notable for women in Congress, as this seat has never been held by anyone other than a white man.

Even in a large field of 23 candidates vying for the open seat, only seven, fewer than half, are women, and only four are women of color. One of the key front runners is Susan Wright, late Congressman Wright’s widow. Other notable women in the race are Jana Lynne Sanchez, a Democrat who ran against Ron Wright in 2018 and lost with 45% of the vote and Shawn Lassiter, a former science teacher, Black single mom, and first-generation college graduate.

Sanchez is not the only prominent woman candidate in the race who is running after a previous electoral loss. Sociologist Lydia Bean, a Democrat, lost her bid for a Texas House seat in District 93 in November. However, losing an election is not necessarily a weakness in the eyes of voters. BLFF research shows that most voters think women who have lost are still qualified and likeable (two must-haves for women candidates). Not to mention that a majority of voters believe that an electoral loss isn’t necessarily the end of a woman’s political career and it can instead be the beginning of the next chapter. By running again Bean and Sanchez demonstrate strength and resilience to Texas voters who are unlikely to view them any less favorably due to their past loss.

As Texas recovers from the overlapping crises caused by February’s ice storm, the ensuing power loss, and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that crisis management will continue to be a huge factor for voters when they consider electability. BLFF research shows that the ability to handle a crisis is a top factor that voters look for when evaluating a woman candidate’s electability. We know that voters have very clear ideas about how candidates demonstrate that they can handle a crisis—including two-way communication, thinking about what could happen before, during, and after the crisis (a 360-degree view), and taking expert opinions seriously. A number of the women in the race, including Jana Lynne Sanchez, and Lydia Bean have all cited pandemic-related issues as a top priority in their agendas. “Texas families are tired, angry and we want answers. Too many of us are still hurting,” said Shawn Lassiter in a campaign video where she simulated being in her home without power in the middle of the night.

Women candidates in this race are bringing their authentic selves to the campaign trail. As a single mother, first-generation college graduate, and the daughter of a single mother who “knows the sting of poverty,” Shawn Lassiter talks about all parts of her life on her campaign website and social media. Republican candidate Jenny Garcia Sharon lists “proud new mom,” and “endometrial cancer survivor” in her Twitter bio, and talks about her childhood on her campaign website. At BLFF we call authenticity “360-degree leadership,” and it is important because it resonates with voters and humanizes political leaders. We also see many women who demonstrate 360-degree leadership use their personal experiences to make the case for broader change. Lydia Bean, for example, relays her experience as a mom into her campaign. Bean’s website says, “I want my son to grow up in a world where all Texans have fair opportunities, access to quality education, and good, safe jobs. That’s what I will fight for every day in Congress.”

The special election for Texas’s 6th Congressional district will take place on May 1 and early voting started April 19. It may progress to a runoff between two candidates. At BLFF we will be watching to see how the women in the field fare.




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