The three candidates in the Republican primary race for Tarrant County district attorney focused their campaigns on gathering endorsements and working to prove their qualifications.
But one expert believes the gloves are about to come off as former state House Rep. Matt Krause and former judge Phil Sorrells prepare for a runoff election. Krause has to make up ground, which he believes he can do, while Sorrells will be working to keep his 10-percentage point lead.
Many factors can come into play to decide the winner of the runoff race on May 24. Sorrells has an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, and Krause has one from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. The two candidates will be making their appeals to the supporters of the third candidate in the primary election, Mollee Westfall. And, the candidates are likely to directly attack each other’s campaigns now.
Sorrells received 40.49% of 118,662 votes, and Krause got 30.95%. To avoid a runoff, a candidate must receive 50 percent plus 1 vote.
“We were just humbled by the support that we received and just so grateful for the support evidenced by the number of people that came out to vote and thought that I was the best candidate for this job,” Sorrells said. “I just hope I can continue to keep their support as we go into this new election in May.”
Westfall, the third primary candidate, received 28.57% of the vote. Where those votes could go in the runoff is unclear; Westfall said Wednesday that she was not offering an endorsement.
But Krause said he thinks he can get those votes. In conversations he’s had with Westfall voters, he is their second choice. With her out of the race, that could make him their first choice, he said.
He plans to keep talking and engaging with Westfall voters and thinks his message could resonate, he said.
University of Texas at Arlington political science professor Thomas Marshall said it was obvious the race would spur a run-off. While he sees advantages for both candidates, he does not see a clear choice on who will come out as the Republican nominee.
“I think the front runner with a 10% margin has an advantage,” Marshall said. “But certainly, I think there are some fireworks to come. Generally speaking, candidates don’t attack each other in a three-person or crowded primary. They like to save all that good stuff.”
The Democrats came out of the March 1 primary with their candidate, Tiffany Burks, who secured 60.51% of 69,885 votes, avoiding a runoff.
If he were in Krause’s position, Marshall said, he would start going through decisions Sorrells made as a judge to try to find something to paint Sorrells more as a liberal, similar to what happened to former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price in the county judge race.
Marshall anticipates candidates refraining from attacks for a couple of weeks, he said. A critical question for voters is how are the two different?
Sorrells said his experience in the courtroom gives him an edge.
“I have 30 years of experience in the courthouse. (Krause) has zero,” Sorrells said. “So, as far as who you want to hire as a lawyer to run the biggest law firm in the county – that doesn’t seem like that even computes – almost 30 years of experience, and he doesn’t have any.”
Krause counters that he wants to make sure voters know he has experience in the courtroom in civil litigation, which also is part of the job, he said. Additionally, the job of the district attorney has evolved over the years and requires knowledge and experience in policy, he said. He believes his work in the state House prepared him to hold the office.
Talking to people on the campaign trail about these concerns allowed Krause to explain his experience — it’s just different, and it connects with voters.
People who vote in primaries and run-offs are the most faithful to the party, Marshall said. The race will come down to who can prove they’re the most conservative. That is why the endorsement from former President Donald Trump can continue to benefit Sorrells.
Sorrells believes the Trump endorsement had a huge impact and got the campaign plenty of positive feedback. But the hard work of his team, from fundraising to standing at the polls, helped him get the most votes in the primary, he said.
Krause has a high-profile endorsement of his own, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. That endorsement can go a long way with voters, Krause said. Additionally, all the reasons Trump endorses Sorrells are reasons Krause said voters can support him as well.
“I line up with every single one of those things, and I can point to you in my legislative record where I fought for, stood for, voted for, each of the things that he’s listed in that endorsement,” Krause said. “So, even though that endorsement may not have gone to me, the spirit and the reasons for that endorsement, you can find all of that in my legislative record.”
Both candidates say they will have to do much more of the same before the runoff election May 24.
Krause is grateful for those who supported him and hope they stick with the campaign, he said. For anyone on the fence, he encourages them to visit his website and social media and reach out with any questions.
Sorrells is happy to see the results of the progress of the campaign so far.
“We were excited to see the results of all the hard work that we put in,” he said. “Standing up in front of the polling places for two weeks and knocking on doors, calling on people going to meetings, raising money, and, finally, it’s like you’re getting the test back of what you studied for and you see, you know, we did well.”
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.