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As State & City Campaigns Ramp Up, County Races Remain Dormant

The Travis County Clerk's office is looking to hire 100 people to staff the polls on Election Day.
Nathan Bernier
Travis County races don't typically draw the same profile as their statewide and city campaign counterparts.

It’s election season and races are in full-swing. Whether it’s the governor’s race or the 78 candidates running for Austin City Council, candidates are busy attending rallies and debates.

But, with Election Day less than two months away, why haven't races at the county level been as active?

The job of Travis County Judge is among those up for grabs this November.

There are at least two people vying for the seat, but there doesn't seem to be much of a race going on between them.

Mark Littlefield says that’s because most of the races are already over.

"More or less the county races in November – except for one JP race – they're over. The Democrat is going to win – probably with at least 55, 60, 65 percent of the vote,” he says Austin political consultant. “The races are pretty much over. They are decided in the March primary.”

Mike McNamara is running knows his odds for winning the seat of county judge are pretty slim. McNamara’s the Republican candidate running against Democrat Sarah Eckhardt, but he's not giving up.

"Nothing is for sure. And if you ever were in sports or anything, you find out pretty quick [sic] that if you don't go play the game, you are never going to win," he says.

Playing the game is one thing, but winning as a Republican candidate in Travis County is another.

It's been the exception to the rule for the better part of the last 2 decades.

Peck Young is with ACC's Center for Public Policy and Political Studies.
In another life, he was a Democratic political strategist. He says despite Republican dominance in state offices, at the county level, Democrats are cementing their control in urban areas.

"Dallas is becoming more and more Democratic. Certainly San Antonio is becoming more and more Democratic,” he says.

You may think that trend could be interpreted as a success story coming from a Democratic strategist. But, Young says, it's not necessarily good for governance.

“The best government was where both sides had enough votes were they could get together and they had to work together and [had to] come up with an answer that wasn't one or the other but some of both,” he says. “What we are headed towards in this country is a lot fewer answers and a lot more fights.”

Young agrees with Littlefield's statement that the Travis County judge race seems to be over. He believes the next competitive race in Travis County will be in 2016. That's when Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty's term will be up, which has, historically, been the only swing precinct in the county.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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