O’Hare’s county judge victory paves path for Republican Party reset in Tarrant

The March 1 ballot gave the Republican Party a chance to recast the direction of Tarrant County politics as the two most powerful seats in the county government were wide open races.

For now, only half of that reset is known. For the latest county results, click here.

Republicans nominated former party chairman Tim O’Hare for county judge over former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. This likely marks a shift toward a more conservative Commissioners Court, the five-member governing body that enacts policy and sets the tax rate and budget. After 16 years as county judge, Republican Glen Whitley is retiring.

“We are going to absolutely, unequivocally not only keep Tarrant County Republican, but we’re gonna make it more conservative,” O’Hare said at an election night watch party in Southlake. “We’re gonna make it more Republican every single day, you can count on me working for that every single day,” 

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In the district attorney’s race, Republicans were more indecisive in who they wanted to replace Sharen Wilson. Former Judge Phil Sorrells of Tarrant County Court No. 10 was the top vote-getter, and he will face Matt Krause in a May 24 runoff.

Both races exemplify the shifting internal politics of the GOP and the long-reaching impact of former President Donald Trump, said Rebecca Deen, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Democrats settled both of their two big county races on March 1. They tapped Tiffany Burks, a former prosecutor for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, as their party’s nominee. 

“Let me say I’m just optimistic, but I know we still have a long way to go,” Burks told supporters in Grand Prairie.

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Deborah Peoples addresses the crowd at the Democratic watch party after landing the party nomination for County Judge. (Marcheta Fornoff | Fort Worth Report)

For county judge, Democrats also nominated its former party chairwoman, retired AT&T executive Deborah Peoples. Looking to November, Peoples told supporters at the Flying Saucer in downtown Fort Worth that the winning county judge campaign cannot be about hate.

Democrats want to flip the county, but Deen expects that it is easier said than done this year. All signs are pointing to a favorable year for the GOP, she said. The biggest positive for Republicans is that typically the party that currently holds the White House will see significant losses in a midterm election.

“That bodes well for the Republican Party. You have this sort of coming together of open seats and it’s a good year for Republicans,” she said.

Republicans flexing strengths

Deen described Tarrant County as the heart of the Texas Republican Party’s strength. It’s the birthplace of the state’s Tea Party movement. 

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The county also has been ground zero for the fight over education. O’Hare has been at the forefront of that fight in Southlake. He founded a political action committee that has secured a conservative majority on the Carroll ISD school board.

Heading into the primary, Price had significant advantages. She had high name recognition because of her 10 years leading Fort Worth and a decade as tax assessor-collector. She also had a slight edge in fundraising, bringing in $882,436. O’Hare brought in $868,724, just $13,712 away from Price’s haul.

Betsy Price, a former Fort Worth mayor, talks to press during her election night watch party on March 1, 2022, at Michael’s Cuisine in Fort Worth. (Jacob Sanchez | Fort Worth Report)

“His win means that he will have been a very good candidate, just a very good campaigner because he had a pretty decent mountain running against someone who has been in Tarrant County for so long,” Deen said. 

O’Hare moved to Southlake in 2013. He previously lived in Farmers Branch in Dallas County where he was the city’s mayor and a council member.

Trump wins, too

O’Hare’s win also is a victory for former President Donald Trump, who endorsed the now Republican nominee for Tarrant County judge. Trump also endorsed Sorrells for district attorney. Trump was quick to claim his win

To see a former president endorse in these types of positions is rare, Deen said.

O’Hare capitalized on Trump’s popularity within their party for his win, Deen said. O’Hare’s win shows the local Republican Party’s direction — and likely that of the Tarrant County government — will be influenced by larger national issues, regardless if they are the purview of county officials.

O’Hare and Price offered voters two different visions representing two different parts of an ever evolving political party. Price was seen as more of a traditional Republican, with her focus on fiscal responsibility and economic development. O’Hare shared many of those same views, but is more of a Trump-style Republican who emphasizes more red meat issues, such as being anti-critical race theory, to keep the party’s base energized.

Tim O’Hare talks to media during his election night party.

Complicated DA’s race

The district attorney’s race is much more complicated than the one for county judge, Deen said. While five candidates ran for county judge, the race came down to an O’Hare-Price matchup and had a distinct dividing line. District attorney candidates, though, are much more aligned, and having three candidates changed the dynamic of the race.

“It’s more like a Venn diagram. Their interests intersect,” Deen said.

Krause and Sorrells were similar in that they were vying for more conservative voters. Sorrells earned Trump’s endorsement, and is seen as more a law-and-order candidate. Krause, though, has been among some of the most conservative state legislators. 

Both men have raised similar amounts of money. Sorrells has an edge, having raised $809,797. Krause has brought in $754,601

Westfall is a conservative, but also has decades of experience like Sorrells. However, she did not focus on red-meat issues like her opponents. She lagged behind in contributions, raising $322,064.

Deen expects the runoff to likely to be an even uglier affair than the primary. 

“There’s no incentive to be nice to the other person,” she said. “For example, in a four-person race, you might need their support later on. But in a two-person race, that dynamic is gone.”

Reporters Rachel Behrndt and David Moreno and editors Marcheta Fornoff and Bob Francis contributed to this report.

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.

This article was originally published by Fort Worth Report.