Barring any surprises, the race for County Judge is down to two. With former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos opting not to run, Travis County Democratic voters will choose between local Democratic Party Chair Andy Brown and County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt. Brown has already declared for the seat. While Eckhardt has not, it is long rumored that she wants to run, and Senator Barrientos urged her to when he decided he would not be a candidate, himself.
Yes, it's early. The primary won't occur for over one year. But just like presidential politics, if you aren't already in the conversation a year early in an open seat race for one of Austin's top elected jobs, then you're going to have a huge uphill climb to stand a chance. The money and insider support advantages that Brown and Eckhardt have already built behind the scenes means that only a heavyweight would be able to break into the race at this point.Andy Brown already has a fundraising lead over the entire field, according to January's mid-year reports. He raised about $72,000 in the second half of 2012, with most of that money coming after the November elections. And he quickly hired a campaign manager in veteran operative Jim Wick. As the Chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party, he has spent the last four years talking to donors on the party's behalf, which probably explains his financial prowess thus far. He's further overseen and hired the directors for large November field efforts throughout the county. He often represents Democrats on television and in the community. After serving since 2008, most activists know him, which is his advantage both electorally and substantively. With a pervasive liberal spirit always on hand at City Hall, voters may wish for such at the Commissioners' Court, too.
Sarah Eckhardt, daughter of the late Congressman Bob Eckhardt, looks to bring her experience already at the county to its top leadership role. She's only thinking about a candidacy, according to all official statements, because of a “resign to run” law. If she declares her candidacy before December, she'll have to give up her seat on the Commissioner's Court in order to do so. With Brown's momentum, however, many politicos expect her to do just that in the Spring or early Summer at the latest. Eckhardt was first elected to be the Precinct 2 County Commissioner in 2006, when she unseated incumbent Karen Sonleitner in the Democratic Primary. She may not be as well known as Brown right now, because she's been working in the Doldrums of the Commissioners' Court, but she had to fiercely campaign and show off liberal cred when she first won her seat. She's also respected as a knowledgeable and effective public servant, which will definitely send some activists into her supporter column, as well, if she chooses to run.
The race is still months away from heating up, however, and the candidates will have over a year to hash out their positions in front of the public. Eckhardt has an extensive record to run on, and will probably push Brown to show his agenda. If Eckhardt decides to run, plenty of drama is still bound to ensue.