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Texas 2020 Elections

Sarah Eckhardt and Eddie Rodriguez poised for a runoff in special Texas Senate election to replace Kirk Watson

The victor will serve the remainder of Watson’s term, which ends in 2022.

Former Travis Co. Judge Sarah Eckhardt and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin.

Former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt was leading the way Tuesday night in the special election to replace former state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, though it appeared she would still be heading to a runoff with state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.

Eckhardt, who needed 50% of the vote to win the election outright, was hovering around that figure Tuesday night. Rodriguez, the other Democrat in the race, was running second with 34% of the vote, according to election returns.

There are still ballots left to count. Election day totals were still being counted, and mail-in ballots that were postmarked on election day will be part of the final tallies if county officials receive them by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

In a statement on Tuesday, Eckhardt said her team is “encouraged by tonight’s results and are anxious to see every vote counted. Whether we win with or without a runoff, I am looking forward to serving the people of Senate District 14.”

Rodriguez, meanwhile, issued a statement Wednesday morning saying he is “deeply appreciative of the support my campaign has received over the past couple months. We couldn’t have come this far without the support of everyone who has made phone calls, chipped in, organized their friends and families, and voted. Now we head into a runoff with the momentum.”

Eckhardt and Rodriguez were followed by Republican Don Zimmerman, a former Austin City Council member. Other candidates in the race were Waller Thomas Burns II, a Republican; former Lago Vista City Council member Pat Dixon, a Libertarian; and Austin physician Jeff Ridgeway, an independent.

All six candidates are fighting to replace Watson, who left his seat at the end of April to become the first dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs.

Rodriguez and Eckhardt both cast themselves as the seasoned candidates in the race. Rodriguez has touted his 18 years in the Texas House, arguing that his relationships there will serve him well in the Senate. Eckhardt, meanwhile, has leaned on her time as Travis County’s chief executive, a post won in 2015, becoming the first female to hold the job.

The race between the two Democrats in the race grew increasingly tense in recent weeks, with Rodriguez knocking Eckhardt for resigning as county judge during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Eckhardt, meanwhile, questioned votes Rodriguez made in the Legislature related to criminal justice and police reform, particularly a key vote he missed in 2019 involving a follow-up measure to the Sandra Bland Act. Rodriguez has said he was off campus at the time negotiating another bill he was involved with.

The victor will serve the remainder of Watson’s term, which ends in 2022. His district includes all of Bastrop County, most of Austin and northern Travis County.

Cassandra Pollock contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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