However, these are not typical times and this year the November elections promise more action in judicial races, particularly in Texas' largest cities. A commenter over at Sentencing Law & Policy pointed me to an item I'd missed back in September from the Dallas NBC affiliate announcing that "As many as seven Republican judges in Dallas County are jumping to the Democratic Party." Most pols I've talked to predict that all incumbent Republicans who did not switch in Dallas will lose - every last one of them, good and bad.
In Houston, nine of the 25 judicial races in play are criminal courts. Voters there came within a whisker in 2006 of a judicial turnover in Harris similar to what happened in Dallas, and a high pro-Obama turnout could easily boost Democratic fortunes enough to take all 25 seats, a transition which would represent a stunning change for Harris County, a long-time GOP bastion.
Similarly, especially with relatively low fundraising totals and fewer policy differences among candidates than we'd have seen if incumbent Chuck Rosenthal hadn't imploded, the Harris County District Attorney's race will likely be decided by who benefits most from the coattails of their party's presidential candidate: Give the edge to C.O. Bradford if that's the case.
The Court of Criminal Appeals races are less likely to flip, though those too are a down-ballot races that will be decided based on macro-level partisan trends. Basically, Texas' statewide vote would have to go Democratic, or close to it (Republicans on the CCA tend to do slightly worse than other statewide GOP candidates), for challengers in these races to have a chance.
Unfortunately, Democrats only fielded one strong candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals - Susan Strawn, who received the endorsements of both the Dallas News and the Houston Chronicle in her bid to unseat incumbent Tom Price. Perennial candidate J.R. Molina, who's running against incumbent
I've met Susan Strawn and think she could be a fine judge. OTOH, I've never even met anyone who's met J.R. Molina, including Strawn! Maybe he'd be a terrific judge, but his campaigning performance makes me suspect he'd be a phenomenal and embarrassing dud.
In any event, the CCA races won't be decided on the merits, unfortunately, so qualifications in a practical sense don't matter in terms of the outcome. Put it this way: If Rick Noriega even gets close to becoming senator, J.R. Molina will likely be on the Court of Criminal Appeals regardless of whether he's competent to represent someone in traffic court. That makes me especially glad Susan Strawn decided to run, on the off chance the stars align and Democrats happen to take those seats.
CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: Susan Strawn contacted me to correct my error ABOVE about J.R Molina's opponent and to let me know she had met Molina; she had not met him yet when I'd spoken to her after the primaries. Reading this again, perhaps I'm being a bit hard on Mr. Molina, though I wish, if he's going to put his name on the ballot, that he'd bother to tell voters why they should elect him.