A site paid for by a conservative political action committee poses a single question to visitors: “Who is the real Betsy Price?”

Price, a Republican, is seeking to replace outgoing Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. The former Fort Worth mayor is considered a top contender for the county’s top elected position. Tim O’Hare, a former Tarrant County Republican Party chairman, is another top candidate for the job.

The site goes through Price’s record as mayor. Its conclusion? “Betsy Price is too liberal for Tarrant County,” the large, white text reads.

This ideological purity test is one of the key parts of the campaign to clinch the GOP’s nomination for county judge. That question is one O’Hare wants Republican voters to consider as they head to the ballot box starting Feb. 14. But Price doesn’t see her race against O’Hare — and three lesser known candidates — as that. Instead, she says it’s about filling the looming vacuum of experience that awaits the Tarrant County government next year.

Election dates

Early voting in the primary elections starts on Monday, Feb. 14. Election Day is Tuesday, March 1. To find more information about polling places and voting by mail, visit Tarrant County’s elections website.

Whether O’Hare or Price is right about their intra-party debate will emerge on March 1. The winning argument, though, will almost certainly set the political direction of Tarrant County for the next four years.

“Most of the folks who are elected, especially countywide, a Republican is going to end up winning in the fall,” Whitley, a Republican, told the Fort Worth Report.

Thomas Marshall, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Arlington, expects the primary will have high turnout because the national climate is more favorable for Republicans and most of the competitive races are on the right.

“This race may be watching up until the last few minutes,” Marshall said.

Fight over conservative title 

O’Hare and Price recognize the favorable environment for their party and the odds of a Republican likely succeeding Whitley, who has thrown his support behind the former Fort Worth mayor. Both candidates are touting their conservative bonafides — and attacking their chief rival — to ensure they get to the general election.

Former Mayor Betsy Price introduced newly elected council members at the Fort Worth Convention Center on June 15, 2021. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“I’ve got a conservative legacy and have proven I can protect taxpayers and deliver to diverse communities and grow our economy,” Price said. “People have to look at the straight shooters here who are telling the truth, who are positive and proactive — and that would be me.”

O’Hare, a former Farmers Branch mayor and council member who moved to Southlake in 2013, characterizes himself as the true conservative in the county judge race. He was at the forefront of the push to stop Carroll ISD’s cultural competence plan that many conservatives viewed as infusing critical race theory into Southlake schools. He also founded the Southlake Families political action committee, a group that has helped elect several conservatives to the Carroll ISD school board.

Tim O’Hare, a former Tarrant County Republican Party chair and former Farmers Branch mayor and council member, is one of five candidates vying for the GOP’s nomination for county judge. (Courtesy of Tim O’Hare)

As mayor, Price oversaw the decline of Republican dominance of Fort Worth, O’Hare said. If Price is their party’s standard bearer in November, O’Hare isn’t sure the GOP’s base will turn out for her and possibly provide an opening to whomever Democrats nominate for county judge. 

Deborah Peoples, the former Democratic Party chair and Fort Worth mayoral candidate, and Marvin Sutton, a former Arlington council member, are vying for their party’s nomination for county judge. Peoples told the Report she believes a Democrat can win the countywide race.

“At the end of the day, Tarrant County is either going to go blue or red — it’s going to stay red,” O’Hare said. “Voters have to decide: Do we want somebody who’s going to stand boldly and unapologetically for conservative principles and reverse the trend or are they going to let Democrats take over?”

Price recognizes that, unlike a mayorship, county judge is a partisan position. She pushed back on accusations of her being a liberal. She pointed out that she was a Republican office holder for a decade when she was tax assessor-collector, a countywide position. 

“I’ve always been a Republican, and I always will be, but I’m not going to move so far to the right that you alienate everybody,” Price said. “I am not trying to out right my opponent. I’m going to run on my experience and a positive message.” 

The Trump card

Marshall expects higher turnout to benefit Price, an established politician with name recognition. 

However, O’Hare has a trump card, quite literally: the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. In a Republican primary, Trump’s backing could make or break a campaign.

“We have the momentum with the endorsement of President Trump,” O’Hare said. “We are getting every grassroots, conservatie endorsement that is out there. It continues to grow on a daily basis.”

Trump’s backing could boost O’Hare in the primary, Marshall said. The former president’s support raises O’Hare’s profile and gives him legitimacy, according to the political science professor.

Still, Marshall warned it could have its limitations. For example, Republican Susan Wright had the former president’s support in her bid to finish the term of her late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, who died from COVID-19. Wright lost her race to fellow Republican Jake Ellzey, then a state legislator. Ellzey and Wright faced each in a runoff following an special election featuring 21 candidates. 

“In some situations, a Trump endorsement can hurt you,” Marshall said. “However, this is a Republican primary and I don’t think it hurts at all — it helps him considerably. Now, whether it helps enough? I don’t know.”

What about the Democrats?

Tarrant County Democrats have one major goal this year: Flip a countywide seat. The party is targeting the races for county judge and district attorney. Currently, no Democrat holds a countywide office.

The last time a Democrat was Tarrant County judge was in 1986, when Mike Moncrief finished his 12 years leading the Commissioners Court. Allison Campolo, the county Democratic Party chair, wants to break the Republican Party’s 36-year grip on the county judge seat.

Fort Worth mayoral candidate Deborah Peoples talks to reporters Saturday, June 5, 2021, after conceding to Mayor-elect Mattie Parker at a watch party at the Post at River East. (Jacob Sanchez | Fort Worth Report)

Campolo sees Tarrant County inching in her party’s direction. The county narrowly went for Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden in 2018 and 2020. Democrats plan to hone in on suburbs to turnout more voters who may vote for their eventual nominees.

“Regardless of who the Republicans have on the ballot, it’s important to our candidates and our party to let people know that there’s excellent Democrats out there to represent them and that their vote matters,” Campolo said.

Marshall, the political science professor, wasn’t sure 2022 would be the year Democrats elect a countywide official here. The past two elections were more of referendums on incumbent Republicans on the ballot, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and Trump in 2020, he said. 

“It’s hard to replicate that a third time,” Marshall said. “This is not a year where signs look very promising for Democrats.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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