Watkins, 46, relied even more on straight-ticket Democratic votes in his narrow 2010 re-election win. After that, ironically, he went after Democratic judges as part of his with-him-or-against-him courthouse mentality. More than one judge has accused him of abusing his authority by threatening to drag them to grand juries over decisions he did not like. Another judge found him in contempt for refusing to honor a subpoena to testify; Lena Levario would be among the judges targeted by Watkins-endorsed candidates.If Watkins' campaign had raised more money he could respond on TV before early voting begins next week to counter the impact of this endorsement and Hawk's TV ad promising to restore voters' "trust" in the office. Instead, he must continue bleeding through the weekend and hope that Wendy Davis' campaign can generate extra Democratic turnout where he cannot. Watkins' re-election in 2010 was decided on turnout and straight ticket voting. If Susan Hawk and the Dallas Morning News convince 10,000 Democrats county-wide to split tickets in the DA's race ... well, let's just say Watkins campaign team should be in a private panic right about now. He's still probably the betting favorite given recent Dallas County electoral trends. But Watkins faces greater danger than in 2010, and there's a lot less he can do about it in the final month compared to four years ago.
Dubious ethics only worsened in his second term, evidenced by his fast-and-loose treatment of forfeiture funds supposedly reserved for law enforcement purposes. Instead, Watkins chose to spend $50,000 to settle his own car crash and another $1,250 to sweep his offices for listening devices.
The car crash settlement included a $40,500 penalty paid to Watkins himself if the other driver spoke publicly about the incident.
Watkins deserves credit for many of his “smart on crime” strategies. But that was then. Now, voters should hire his successor in Hawk, even if they have to split straight tickets to do so.
Watkins' position is further weakened because of his strategy of using his prosecutors to primary Democratic judges he didn't like, a method that was in several cases successful and left factions of the party particularly upset with him. He also ran his first assistant in a failed bid for Dallas County Democratic Party Chair, which forced Democratic leaders county-wide to already choose to oppose him once this year. If just a few of them still feel bitter and defect in the secrecy of the voting booth, a close watcher of the Dallas vote count wouldn't be surprised at an upset.
Having performed opposition research in dozens of political campaigns, at this point I've broken out the popcorn and am watching the three big DA's races - Dallas, Harris, Bexar - mainly for the entertainment value. There's nothing I can do about them in these closing weeks and the voters' whimsy does not respond to reasoned argument. Watkins has done a lot of things I liked, even admired, but he's also brought virtually all of his present problems on himself. His fate is up to Dallas voters, now ... God help us all.
RELATED: Mike Hashimoto at the Dallas News liked this blog post, writing an appreciation on the DMN Opinion Blog. TANGENTIALLY RELATED: See the Texas Tribune's coverage of the Bexar DA's race, made more competitive by a single donor dumping nearly $700K into the coffers of the Democratic challenger.