D.A. Race: Final Verdict Pending

D.A. candidate Rosemary Lehmberg 
enters a primary run-off in the lead.
D.A. candidate Rosemary Lehmberg enters a primary run-off in the lead. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The race for Travis Co. district attorney will go into overtime, with an April 8 run-off featuring Democratic contenders Rosemary Lehmberg and Mindy Montford.

With incumbent D.A. Ronnie Earle finally retiring from the county's top law enforcer spot that he first won in 1976, the race to replace the don of the D.A.'s office attracted a four-candidate field of prospective successors, all of whom currently work under Earle. With the crowded field (and no Republican contenders), the conventional wisdom anticipated that election night would end with a two-candidate showdown. So it has: After the election night votes trickled in, Lehmberg, Earle's first assistant D.A., grabbed 35.5% of the vote; Montford, trial court prosecutor, garnered 31.9%. Gary Cobb, a prosecutor in the office since 1990, earned 21.7%; Rick Reed, the only candidate who promised a death penalty moratorium, won 11.7%.

The numbers also reflect an election day swing in favor of Montford; trailing by nearly 9% in early voting, she narrowly edged Lehmberg on election day (32.73% to 32.1%).

The leaders say they were not surprised. At Montford election HQ, a bevy of supporters spilled outside with campaign signs to raucously cheer her whenever TV news live-spot cue-time rolled around. Montford, at 37 the youngest candidate (but bringing the advantage of family stroke via her father, John, longtime Lubbock state senator turned AT&T executive), was excited and optimistic about her position. "This is exactly where I wanted to be," she said. Her opponent, Lehm­berg, was endorsed by incumbent and Austin icon Earle. Montford figures it's sort of like being in a race against Earle himself – who woulda thunk it? "A run-off with Ronnie Earle?" she pondered. "Jesus, I'm in a run-off against Earle." In all, Montford says she is "so thrilled and honored" to still be in the race. And she's ready: "We have known this was a possibility, so we already have a strategy in place."

D.A. candidate Mindy Montford  with father and former state Sen. John Montford
D.A. candidate Mindy Montford with father and former state Sen. John Montford (Photo by Jordan Smith)

As does her opponent. Lehmberg, the experienced sage of the race – a woman who has been working in the D.A.'s office several months longer than her venerable boss – also suspected that on March 5 she'd still be running a campaign. "I wanted to win it outright," she said, but was nonetheless prepared for a run-off. Her supporters were certainly feeling celebratory Tuesday night – including No. 1 Lehmberg fan, Earle, who was positively beaming with pride. Sure, he wanted Lehm­berg to win it outright as well, but given the near inevitability of a run-off, Earle said the election night results shows just "how smart Austin voters are."

The question is where Cobb and Reed supporters might align themselves in the monthlong race – Lehmberg said she planned to call Cobb Tuesday night "to talk with him a bit" but said that no matter what, she would hit the ground running Wednesday morning. Montford, too, said she is ready to keep campaigning but was unwilling to predict an April winner: As she's learned working as a prosecutor in trial, she said, "You never talk about the punishment until you get the guilty verdict."

Early VotingElection DayTotal
Mindy Montford21,980 (29.6%)21,643 (32.7%)43,623 (31.1%)
Rosemary Lehmberg28,543 (38.5%)21,222 (32.1%)49,765 (35.5%)
Gary Cobb15,765 (21.2%)14,678 (22.2%)30,443 (21.7%)
Rick Reed7,901 (10.6%)8,578 (13.0%)16,479 (11.7%)

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