Sarah Eckhardt may avoid a runoff in Texas Senate District 14 special election, but it’s too close to call

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt speaks at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 29, 2018. Thomas Meredith for The Texas Tribune

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 remained unclear whether she would be able to avoid a runoff.

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

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

Watson retired from the Senate at the end of April and became 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 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 she won in 2015, becoming the first female to hold the job.

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.