AUSTIN, Texas — Six candidates have filed to run in the July 14 special election for Texas Senate District 14. The historically Democratic seat, which state Sen. Kirk Watson is vacating for a job in academia, covers Bastrop County and parts of Travis County. Two Austin-area elected officials are duking it out for the seat in the Texas Senate.

What You Need To Know

  • The special election is July 14

  • Election will fill the state Senate seat vacated by Kirk Watson

  • Seat covers Bastrop County and parts of Travis County

Hours before the filing deadline Wednesday, Sarah Eckhardt made her bid for the state Senate official. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of her father, Bob Eckhardt, who was a member of the Texas House of Representatives before coming a congressman.

“Hopefully if I win, I want a photo-op down in the basement of the Capitol, where there’s a picture of my dad and me as a baby,” Eckhardt told Spectrum News on Wednesday.

RELATED | Kirk Watson to Retire from Texas Senate

The day before was Eckhardt’s last day as the Travis County judge, where she stayed on longer than expected to help the community during the coronavirus pandemic. Eckhardt, who became the county’s first female judge in 2015 and was reelected to a second term in 2018, announced in March she would resign to run in the special election. Eckhardt, a Democrat, now seeks to serve on a bigger scale.

“The work is really needing to be had at the state level. So much of what we do here, so much of our success stops, or is rolled back by actions at the state, or in actions at the state. So, in many ways, I feel like my work (at the county) is done,” Eckhardt said. 

Eckhardt will continue to help with Travis County’s COVID-19 response in a volunteer capacity. She will be assisting Interim County Judge Sam Biscoe, but her focus now is shifting to educating voters about what she wants to accomplish.

“Along with issues of education funding, transportation funding, criminal justice reform, we also have emergency response that really needs to be tackled. I don’t think the state anticipated a statewide emergency,” Eckhardt said.

RELATED | Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt Resigns to Run for Texas Senate

But for Eckhardt’s fiercest opponent, it is all about experience at the Texas Legislature. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who was first elected in 2003, is the longest serving Austin Democrat in the House and he has gotten his delegation’s support. On Monday, Rodriguez announced 100 additional endorsements to his campaign. He touts the relationships he has made within his party and across the aisle, as well.

“For the budget and everything else, you know, I've fought for 18 years. I’ve been in the House fighting for working families, and that's simply because that's who I am. I’m originally from the Rio Grande Valley, born to a working class family, first in my family to go to college,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the pandemic has re-shifted the focus of his campaign, and has highlighted several issues important to him. He said he believes there needs to be a “robust safety net” that includes addressing unemployment benefits, increasing access to health care and telemedicine, and increasing access to Internet.

“Those that are disadvantaged, it kind of magnified that and magnified that there's a great need out there. With or without this virus, right? There's people that really are one paycheck away from having to go to wait in line to get food from the Central Texas Food Bank for example,” Rodriguez said. 

RELATED | Eddie Rodriguez Enters Race to Replace Kirk Watson in Texas Senate

The biggest obstacle for all the candidates right now is figuring out how to get their message out to the masses in the age of COVID-19. The challengers have largely taken their campaigns online, checking in with voters remotely through phone calls, video calls, and text messages.

Four other candidates are also running for the Senate seat. The two Republicans who filed are former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman and attorney Waller Thomas Burns III. Pat Dixon, a former Lago Vista City Council member, is running as a Libertarian, meanwhile physician Jeff Ridgeway is running as an independent candidate.

Gov. Greg Abbott originally scheduled the special election for May 3, but it was pushed to July 14 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor has also doubled the length of the early voting period which will now begin on June 29.