A long and brutal slugfest to attain the Travis County Judge seat ended late Tuesday with former Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt taking the prize in a clear 55-45 win over Andy Brown. The victory came at the end of a weird Election Day, hobbled by an early morning freeze that forced polls to open four hours later than the usual 7am start time. It took a court order to extend the polling hours to 9pm – and every vote after 7pm, under state law, became a "provisional" vote, to be formally counted only if necessary. Eckhardt waited out the returns at Whisler's, formerly known as Rabbit's, once a popular watering hole of politicians and Eastside locals.
Eckhardt – who in November faces little-known but perennial GOP candidate Mike McNamara – is the presumptive successor to long-serving Judge Sam Biscoe, who retires at the end of the year. Brown, as the former chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, had been endorsed by several key Austin political figures, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Sen. Kirk Watson, and had strong support from labor groups. Brown raised more money, topping out at over $730,000, including in-kind contributions, and structurally appeared to have the better machine. But Eckhardt, who raised $447,000 including a loan she made to her campaign, trumpeted her experience, and challenged Brown's ties to influential donors, some of whom had earlier given to Eckhardt's campaigns during her six years on the Commissioners Court.
The race grew its most polarized in the final 10 days, with both campaigns turning up the heat several notches. Asked why the contest had turned so bitter, Eckhardt said: "We're an urbanizing county with over a million people, and now, the county judge's position has become very important and highly prized by a lot of very important interests. I was not at all surprised that this became a pitched campaign."
While Eckhardt got off to a late start in a campaign that hit more than a few bumps along the way, the Democratic nominee credited her campaign staff's teamwork. "I grew up in politics and in campaigns," said the daughter of former Congressman Bob Eckhardt. "It's rare that you have a group of people who work so well together and are so nice to each other. There was very little unnecessary drama."
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