Nearly three months after the crowded race in Texas' 6th Congressional District advanced into a runoff between two Republicans -- Susan Wright and state Rep. Jake Ellzey -- the major theme of the contest remains the same: will former President Donald Trump's influence translate into victory on the campaign trail?
In April, Trump endorsed Susan Wright -- the widow of the late Congressman Ron Wright who died in February after suffering from COVID-19 and complications from cancer -- before the special election even took place. In the leadup to Tuesday's contest, Trump publicly reiterated his support for Wright in a statement, saying she "supports America First policies" which earned her his "Complete and Total Endorsement."
The former president also recorded a robo-call that was circulated online that touted Wright as "a great Republican (and) a great woman" who would carry on her husband's politically conservative legacy in Congress. Although Wright's inheritance of her late husband's congressional track record is not an unusual phenomenon in the history of campaign politics, the widow-turned-congressional-hopeful is not yet guaranteed to win outright given Ellzey's fundraising prowess.
Despite not having Trump's endorsement, Ellzey has been able to raise more than double that of Wright. As of July 7, the state congressman raised more than $1.2 million compared to Wright's $454,000, which could have helped him streamline his campaign's voter mobilization efforts ahead of Tuesday's contest.
Going into the matchup, Ellzey also has the backing of several high-profile Texas Republicans -- including former Gov. Rick Perry, who also served as energy secretary in the Trump administration, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw who represents the district bordering Houston. The pair defended Ellzey on the campaign trail after he faced weeks of attacks from the conservative, anti-tax group, the Club for Growth, through mailers and advertisements.
"Nothing irritates me more than the junk that I have seen in the mailboxes talking about him. If you want to win an election that bad, I don't want you to be my congressman," Perry said at a campaign rally for Ellzey in mid-July.
Following that rally, Club for Growth President David McIntosh issued a statement in which he praised Wright as a "principled conservative" while calling Ellzey a "serial opportunist with a record of missing votes and supporting higher taxes."
But the political back-and-forth could take a backseat to voter engagement given that special elections historically draw far fewer voters to the polls than midterm or general election cycles.
"Susan Wright is still probably the favorite based on the early judgments people made and the Trump endorsement in particular, but I think what makes it unpredictable is that Ellzey is probably a better campaigner than Susan Wright is, and in a very low turnout race -- which this is expected to be -- it's very hard to tell (who will win)," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in Texas politics.
Jillson predicts it will be unlikely that Independent and Democratic voters turn out in large enough numbers on what is expected to be a scorching hot day to cast their ballots in opposition to the Trump-backed candidate. Still, the uncertainty of how many voters plan to participate in an off-cycle runoff election looms over the contest.
"You don't know how many people are going to turn out. You don't know who they're going to be, (or) where they're going to be -- the northern part of the district leans toward Wright, the southern part of the district leans toward Ellzey," he said in an interview with ABC News Monday.
Regardless of who comes out on top, the outcome of Tuesday's election signals an inherent victory for congressional Republicans and will further narrow Democrats' majority in the House. The lack of an opposing party member in the running allows Republicans to focus their spending in more competitive contests in the future.
"I look forward to welcoming a new Republican colleague to Congress," National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer said in May following Wright and Ellzey's runoff advancements.