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Eckhardt claims victory over Brown in County Judge primary race

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Despite a considerable fundraising disadvantage, former Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt defeated opponent Andy Brown, former Travis County Democratic Chair, Tuesday in the Democratic Primary.


She will face Republican Mike McNamara, Libertaian Richard Perkins and other third-party candidates in November to take over the reins of the Commissioners Court when Judge Sam Biscoe retires at the end of the year. 


Brown conceded the race after midnight when 95 percent of the precincts had been counted and Eckhardt led by almost 10 points.


“I feel very positive about working toward a truly progressive goal of making sure the wealth of this community circulates through the entire community,” Eckhardt said.


Brown was upbeat despite the defeat.


“We ran a great campaign. We stayed positive and focused on the issues, and I won’t stop working for a better Travis County,” he said.


With 94 percent of the precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, Eckhardt had widened her lead to more than 3,800 votes out of about 40,000 cast. She collected a higher percentage on Election Day – 56.62 percent — than she did in the early vote.


Two seasoned political consultants, David Butts and Peck Young, late Tuesday agreed that Brown could not make up the difference in votes and declared Eckhardt the winner.


Young cited the endorsements from the American Statesman and the Austin Chronicle as important in Eckhardt’s victory. He added, Brown had some advantages too, having been party chair. “I’ve seen party chairs run in other places and be invincible,” Young said. But, “In Travis County there’s about a 5-7 point edge for females in almost all elections and has been for 25 years.”


Eckhardt stepped down from her Commissioner Pct. 2 seat last May to run for County Judge. She is a former Travis County prosecutor and comes from a legendary Central Texas political family. She is the daughter of former Congressman Bob Eckhardt, a Democrat who served 14 years from 1967 to 1981.


In addition to serving as party chair, Brown is an attorney and longtime political operative. He has not, however, ever held public office. (The post of party chair is listed on county ballots, but is strictly a party position.)


Brown collected a large number of endorsements in the race, including such Democratic luminaries as Congressman Lloyd Doggett, State Sen. Kirk Watson, for whom he has worked and raised money. He also had endorsements from the Austin Labor Council, the Austin Board of Realtors, the Austin Police Association and the Travis County Sheriff’s Officers Association and a variety of Democratic political organizations. 


His campaign led in donations, pulling in some $733,000, including in-kind donations, with cash donations totaling $662,000.


Eckhardt said her strength is her experience and understanding of county government. She campaigned on her record in office, touting items like working to set the county’s policy for corporations seeking tax incentives, developing groundwater rules for subdivisions and pushing for more transparency on the court.


The Eckhardt campaign raised a $447,000 war chest, and garnered several key endorsements, including former State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, former Austin Mayor Frank Cooksey, former Austin Council Members Jackie Goodman, Jennifer Kim and Daryl Slusher and others.  


Brown and Eckhardt ran in the first competitive campaign for County Judge since 1998. The office will become vacant in January when current County Judge Sam Biscoe retires after more than 15 years on the job.


Reporters Kara Nuzback and Elizabeth Pagano contributed to this story.


This story was updated to reflect that a Libertarian candidate and other third-party candidates will be on the November ballot.

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