Rochelle Garza is headed into Democratic AG runoff, but her opponent is still undetermined

Rochelle Garza received the most votes in Tuesday's Democratic primary for attorney general. (Rochelle Garza Campaign, Rochelle Garza Campaign)

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Two days after election day in the March primary, the Democratic race for attorney general is still not settled.

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By Tuesday night, it was clear that Rochelle Garza, a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer from Brownsville, was the clear front-runner in the race, but she did not garner enough support to avoid a May runoff. Joe Jaworski, an attorney and former Galveston mayor, was in a tight battle with civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt for second place, with Jaworski in the lead but only a few thousand votes separating the two.

Early Wednesday morning, Garza celebrated her showing, thanking voters for their support. She did not mention the runoff and instead turned her sights to Republican incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is headed into his own runoff against Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

"I got in this race to fight for Texas families, protect voting & reproductive rights and hold corporations and bad actors to account when they take advantage of Texans," Garza said in a statement. "Indicted Ken Paxton is the most corrupt Attorney General in the country and our campaign is ready to defeat him this November."

Merritt said Wednesday afternoon that the "race is not over" and was waiting for all the votes to be counted. He said the delayed results showed "flaws in our election system" that led to mistrust, confusion and people being discouraged from voting.

"Our campaign is eagerly watching and waiting along with the rest of the state and the country to see the results of this election," he said in a statement.

By Thursday, the secretary of state's website said all polling locations in the state had reported. But some mail-in ballots and provisional ballots can still be tabulated. Jaworski still held a slim lead over Merritt.

On Thursday, Jaworski tweeted cheerily that he was still in second place and was "exhibiting Olympian patience" in waiting for final results.

"Let’s get another cup of coffee while we wait," he said. "Onward!"

Meanwhile, Mike Fields, who placed a distant fourth, congratulated Garza and said she was "the preferred choice of the majority of Democratic primary voters," garnering more than twice the votes of her nearest competitor. He then asked Jaworski and Merritt to forgo a runoff and allow Garza to focus her attention on winning the general election in November.

"It’s time to respect our constituents and get behind Rochelle," he told the other candidates in a text message. "She won. We should honor that by giving her the opportunity to turn her focus to whoever the Republicans put forward instead of having her mired in a prolonged runoff."

Jaworski said in a statement Thursday that he was surprised by the text but had explained his position to Fields by phone.

"I have explained to him that the primary is over, the runoff is on and I intend to win it," Jaworski said. "I can beat Ken Paxton in November."

Merritt's camp similarly said it looks forward to a runoff.

"We believe a runoff will provide a suppressed electorate a chance to become more familiar with the candidates and to address some of the urgent issues concerning voter access ahead of the November election," he said in a statement. "This primary race is still not over. Our campaign is eagerly watching and waiting along with the rest of the state and the country to see the final results of this election."

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state 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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