Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Lawyers arguing in front of the Texas Supreme Court next year likely won’t need to memorize any new faces. In early, unofficial returns, all three Republican incumbents running for re-election to the state's highest civil court were projected to win their primary races — all but guaranteeing them victory in November. Two of three Court of Criminal Appeals races, meanwhile, seemed to be headed for runoffs.
The tightest Supreme Court race, for Place 5, pitted incumbent Paul Green against the similarly named Rick Green. Paul Green said he was aware he wouldn’t be able to count on name recognition, which normally helps give the edge to incumbents, this time around. Early votes had Paul Green just 78 votes ahead of Rick Green, but the former’s lead widened slowly over the course of the evening and looked to hold steady.
In Place 3, The Texas Tribune is calling the race for Debra Lehrmann, who has maintained a steady lead over challenger Michael Massengale. Massengale mounted a serious campaign to build name recognition, including spending more than $300,000 on television ads — an unusual move for a state Supreme Court candidate. But Lehrmann, who counts Gov. Greg Abbott among her supporters, held roughly 52 percent of the vote and looked to pull through.
The Tribune has also called the last race, pitting incumbent Eva Guzman against third-time Supreme Court candidate Joe Pool Jr., as a decisive Guzman victory. Guzman boasted a deep bench of support that included U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as well as a number of influential Tea Party groups across the state. Even Abbott’s wife, Cecilia, got involved — she hit the trail with Guzman in February.
Of the three Republican Court of Criminal Appeals races, two appear headed for May run-offs. Although the candidates are vying for spots on the state’s highest criminal court, they’ve struggled to get visibility across the board.
In the race for Place 2, Mary Lou Keel, of Harris County, and Ray Wheless, of Collin County, were headed for a runoff after trading the top spot throughout the evening. Keel pulled ahead of Wheless, a Tea Party favorite, in later returns. In third place was Chris Oldner, with roughly 25 percent. The eventual winner will face incumbent Democrat Lawrence Meyers, who faced no challenger in his primary, in the November election.
In a testament to the power of name recognition, Scott Walker, a criminal defense attorney from Fort Worth, was claiming a clear first in the race for Place 5 — even though Walker waged an extremely low-profile campaign, even by Court of Criminal Appeals standards. He was pulling in roughly 41 percent of the vote. A tight race for second place was underway between Brent Webster, a Williamson County assistant district attorney; Sid Harle, a district court judge from Bexar County; and Steve Smith, a former Texas Supreme Court justice.
The Texas Tribune called Place 6 for incumbent Michael Keasler — the only Republican Court of Criminal Appeals judge running for re-election. He maintained a double digit lead over opponent Richard Davis over the course of the night.