(Corrects paragraph 11 to show Ellzey is currently a Texas state representative)
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Former President Donald Trump's preferred candidate for a U.S. House seat in Texas was projected to lose a special runoff election on Tuesday, defeated by a fellow Republican who raised far more campaign cash, the Texas Tribune newspaper said.
Susan Wright, a 58-year-old Republican activist whom Trump endorsed in April, had sought to finish her late husband Representative Ron Wright's term in the House.
But the newspaper projected that Wright would lose to Texas state legislator Jake Ellzey in Texas' 6th congressional district, a longtime Republican-held district outside Dallas. Ellzey was ahead 52.9% to 47.1% for Wright, with 90% of precincts reporting, according to state data that stopped short of declaring a winner.
The two Republicans emerged from 23 candidates in the first round of voting May 1, with Democrats shut out of the contest.
Wright had been expected to do well because Trump weighed in for her in a special election, normally a low-turnout affair.
The state's Republican governor, Greg Abbott, in a statement congratulated Ellzey, calling him "a strong and effective leader."
Trump endorsed Wright in April. His political action committee made a last-minute $100,000 television ad buy for her over the weekend, campaign finance records show, and he made a personal pitch for her during a telephone rally Monday night.
"Ellzey’s victory suggests a Trump endorsement may not be all that is cracked up to be, while also highlighting Wright’s weakness as a candidate and the ineffectual campaign she and her advisors ran, hoping to coast to victory based on Trump’s endorsement," said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor.
The result will reduce Democrats' narrow 220-211 majority in the U.S. House by one seat as Congress prepares to try to pass Democratic President Joe Biden's sweeping $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
Ron Wright died of COVID-19 on Feb. 7.
In addition to being a Texas state representative, Ellzey is a former Navy fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. He far exceeded Wright in fundraising, taking in $1.7 million through July 7, $1 million more than Wright, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Trump won the district by three percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, a nine-point slide from four years earlier.
The Trump-allied fund-raising arm of the conservative Club for Growth based in Washington, D.C., says it has spent over $1 million in television ads and mailers for Wright. The ads proclaimed Trump's endorsement of Wright and sharply attacked Ellzey, charging that Democrats are trying to get him elected.
Ahead of the voting, Democrats said they were not keen about turning out to vote for either Republican. Jana Lynne Sanchez, the Democrat who was edged out of the runoff by 354 votes in May, when there were 23 candidates on the ballot, said of the candidates: "They are both very far right."
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone, Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)