Tuesday, July 28, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Rodriguez concedes, calls for unity, Eckhardt headed to Texas Senate

Eddie Rodriguez announced Monday that he was opting out of an uphill battle for the Senate District 14 seat against former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. Instead, Rodriguez said he would focus his efforts “on winning a Democratic majority and promoting an aggressive, progressive agenda in the Texas House.”

Rodriguez, who has served in the Texas House since 2003, congratulated Eckhardt in a written statement, saying, “As dean of the Travis County delegation, I look forward to working with her to carve a progressive path forward for our shared community.”

Eckhardt’s Monday statement was concise: “I have deep respect for Representative Rodriguez and the race he ran. I look forward to joining forces with him in the next session to advance our shared progressive values for Bastrop and Travis counties and for Texas.”

The Senate seat became vacant when Kirk Watson stepped down to begin his new job as the founding dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs this spring. Eckhardt will serve out Watson’s term, which expires in 2023.

Rodriguez won the Democratic primary to represent House District 51 in March and he does not have a Republican opponent. His decision to forgo the runoff, which would have been in early October, will save Travis County between $700,000 and $1 million, according to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.

DeBeauvoir told the Austin Monitor, ” I was happy to conduct the election if that’s what people wanted … but it is true that it makes us able to focus on getting ready for the November election.”

Later Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that early voting for the Nov. 3 election would be extended by six days, starting on Oct. 13 and ending Oct. 30.

Eckhardt had 49.74 percent and Rodriguez had about 34 percent of the vote in the six-person race on July 14. Even though Rodriguez raised and spent considerably more money, campaign experts who spoke with the Monitor did not expect him to win a runoff against Eckhardt.

Political consultant Peck Young, who retired in 2019 as director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College, said Rodriguez’s decision “shows good sense. It speaks well for Eddie.”

Young added that because of “the magnitude of the distance between him and Sarah … he really didn’t have much of a choice …. (Y)ou have to, when you’re in those sorts of circumstances as a candidate, look and see whether you want to spend the kind of money it takes to run a second campaign with almost no prospect of being successful. The intelligent and graceful thing was to terminate the situation.”

Consultant and pollster Mark Littlefield said he thought Rodriguez made the right decision. “The runoff was going to be a smaller electorate and the most likely path to victory for Eddie was for him to go very, very negative against Sarah Eckhardt, which wouldn’t be good for Eddie.

“Eddie has spent 20 years in office and another half-decade or more before that in Democratic Party politics … so for over 25 years whenever you say Eddie’s name, people say, What a nice guy. People like him and enjoy being around him …. He was going to put that at risk if he had (gone negative) … the good news is the race is over and he still has that intact.”

Eckhardt has been serving as an unpaid special assistant to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe to help handle the Covid-19 pandemic. Travis County spokesman Hector Nieto said the county does not yet know when Eckhardt will leave her job there and be sworn in as a senator.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Eddie Rodriguez: Texas State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez is a Democrat who was first elected in 2003 as the District 51 representative to the Texas House of Representatives.

Judge Sarah Eckhardt: Eckhardt was elected Travis County Judge in November 2014, after previously serving as the Precinct 2 County Commissioner.

Texas Legislature: The state’s legislative governing body composed of the House and Senate.

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