Long Arm Of The Law

After two months in limbo, Clifton Police Chief Trace Hendricks grabs Republican nomination to run for the open Bosque County Sheriff seat in Nov. with runoff victory over Chief Deputy Clint Pullin

With Texas State Rep. DeWayne Burns calling it "the longest runoff election in American history," Texans faced down the surging novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic to head out to the polls and vote in the 2020 Texas Primary Runoff Election held across the state Tuesday.

With only one local race on the Republican ballot in Bosque County,  all eyes were on the battle to become the next Bosque County Sheriff as Clifton Police Chief Trace Hendricks surpassed Bosque County Chief Deputy Clint Pullin for the nomination to face Democrat candidate Danny Ragsdale in the 2020 General Election Nov. 3.

Behind a strong showing in early voting and mail-in ballots, Hendricks drew 60.8 percent  (1,348 votes) of the vote, handily overcoming the challenge mounted by Pullin, who collected 869 total votes.

"I'd like to thank my campaign team and my supporters," Hendricks said. "This has been a long drawn out campaign and election cycle, and I'm proud to have came out as the winner. I want to congratulate Clint Pullin on a hard fought campaign. He and his supporters worked hard, and I can appreciate their efforts.

"I look forward to moving on to November's election and ultimately serving as the Sheriff for Bosque County. Thank you all."

With five of seven precincts reporting from Election Day voting, Hendricks clung to a narrow 356-352 votes advantage. But Hendricks tallied 63.0 percent of the early votes to build a comfortable lead, then put Pullin away with an overwhelming 248-89 victory in his hometown of Clifton, the final two precinct boxes to report.

"I was hoping it would be a little closer than that -- I've never lost an election before," Pullin said shortly after the final ballot box totals were posted on the door at the Bosque County Courthouse in Meridian. "The early voting really was the difference.

"I would like to tell all my friends and supporters thank you for sticking with me during this long election process. I can tell you how much I appreciate it. I ran a clean and honest race, but didn’t pull it out in the end."

With incumbent Bosque County Sheriff Anthony Malott choosing to not seek re-election after holding office since Jan. 2009, this campaign began as a three-man race on the Republican Primary ballot for the Super Tuesday Texas Primary in March.

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Republican nominee for Bosque County Sheriff Trace Hendricks congratulated by former opponent Larry Betik (above); Hendricks receives a congratulatory phone call (top).

Despite trailing with nine of 11 precincts reporting on Super Tuesday, Hendricks handily carried the two Clifton-based precincts reporting late to surge ahead of Pullin and win by only 209 votes with 4,097 total ballots counted. Hendricks finished with 38.6 percent (1,583 votes) of the vote, followed by Pullin with 33.5 percent (1,374), and retired veteran Larry Betik with 27.8 percent (1,140).

Since none of the candidates managed to draw more than 50 percent of the vote, Hendricks and Pullin moved on to the Texas Primary Runoff Election.

The Hendricks campaign staff -- spearheaded by Tom Murdoch and Beth Outlaw -- held a watch party at El Charro's Mexican Restaurant in Clifton beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday evening as supporters and visitors complied with the mandated social distancing requirements.

"This campaign has been long and drawn out due to the pandemic, and I'm sure everyone is as ready to move on to business as I am," Hendricks said. "I've enjoyed meeting and speaking with many Bosque County citizens and hearing their concerns. I look forward toward resolving the issues that affect the lives of our citizens."

Due to the pandemic, Pullin decided that holding a watch party inside would not be a good idea. So the candidate and his family set up in the parking lot outside the Bosque County Courthouse, inviting supporters to join them for refreshments and bring a chair to stay awhile.

"We held off making a decision waiting to see what our best options would be while thinking and acting in the best interest of the citizens during this pandemic," Pullin said. "I wish to thank all of those citizens who supported me during this long election year."

Texas held its 2020 runoff elections Tuesday to finalize which Democratic and Republican primary candidates will be on the ballot for the November general election. In more than 30 races  in the Texas Primary on Super Tuesday on March 3, no candidate exceeded 50 percent of the vote, bringing about runoff races between the candidates who came in first and second.

Originally scheduled to take place May 26, the 2020 primary runoffs were postponed to July 14 in response to the outbreak of the new coronavirus in Texas.

"This has been a difficult campaign season for all involved," Bosque County Republican Party chairman Janet Jackson said. "The COVID restrictions have not only delayed the Primary Runoff for our two sheriff candidates, but it also restricted them from the usual social interactions for campaigning."

The pandemic has also sparked a legal fight over the expansion of voting through mail-in ballots. On the other hand, early voting ran from June 29- July 10, doubling the length of the early voting period for the runoffs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Historically, Texas runoff elections have produced low voter turnout. But in Bosque County, 1023 in-person early votes were cast for the 2020 runoffs, while 319 mail-in ballots had been received as of 3 p.m. Monday.

"In the runoff election we had two years ago, we had very low turnout," said Bosque County Elections Administrator Crystal Denman referring to the 2018 Democrat runoff election for nominees in Governor and U.S. House District 25 races. "This year, the early voting turnout has been really good, especially considering that we moved the date.

"But I really think the strong numbers of early voters probably has nothing to do with COVID. I just think people were really interested in the Sheriff race and wanted to have their voice in it."

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Through July 8, nearly 800,000 Texans had voted early statewide — either in person or by mail. More than 482,000 people voted in the Democratic Party runoffs, while more than 316,500 participated in Republican runoff contests.

On the Democrat Runoff ballot, two dramatically different races determined nominees to face Republican front runners in November.

In the U.S. Senate Democratic primary runoff Tuesday night, Air Force veteran Mary "MJ" Hegar defeated Dallas State Sen. Royce West, 52.1-47.9 percent. Hegar will face an uphill battle against incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will have a huge financial advantage in a traditionally red state.

But with Former Vice President Joe Biden launching his first general-election TV ads in Texas as polls show him closing in on President Donald Trump, tightening polls at the top of the ticket has given some Texas Democrats hope for November.

The race between Hegar and West became contentious as West amped up his questioning of Hegar’s party credentials and harnessed the energy over police misconduct to energize his campaign. In the Texas Primary, 12 Democrat candidate were on the ballot with Hegar collecting 22.3 percent of the vote, followed by West with 14.7.

In the other race on the Democrat ballot, Chrysta Castaneda ran away with a victory over Roberto "Beto" Alonzo by garnering 62.0 percent of the vote to win the nomination to run for one of the three seats on the Railroad Commission against Republican challenger James Wright. Wright defeated incumbent Ryan Sitton in the Republican Primary in March, while Castaneda came out on top on the Democrat ballot  in the Texas Primary with 34.0 percent of the vote, followed by Alonza with 28.6 percent.

Even after the delayed runoff election, the campaign season in Texas has once again been upended by the coronavirus as it has surged across the state in recent weeks. The spike prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a statewide mask requirement earlier this month, despite previously resisting calls to issue such a mandate.

When he issued a statewide mask mandate, Abbott excluded churches and people voting in the primary runoff elections, leaving it up to people heading inside crowded polling places to decide whether to wear a mask.

Previously, the Texas Secretary of State issued “minimum recommended health protocols” for elections, including a suggestion that voters bring their own hand sanitizer to the polls and that they “may want to consider” voting curbside if they have symptoms of the new coronavirus. And those guidelines came as Texans headed to the polls at high rates for the historically low-turnout runoffs.

Through July 8, nearly 800,000 Texans had voted early statewide — either in person or by mail. More than 482,000 people voted in the Democratic Party runoffs, while more than 316,500 participated in Republican runoff contests.

With that in mind, the results may not be immediately known in close races around the state. Because of the number of voters casting mail-in ballots, the final results might not be tabulated for days. And in some close races, it may not be clear who won by late Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of the TRACE HENDRICKS CAMPAIGN

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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