DALLAS (Nexstar) — With the March primary less than a week away, civil rights attorney Lee Merritt is hoping his national profile will help earn him the Democratic nomination in the race for attorney general.
The Dallas-based attorney defends victims from corporate discrimination, police violence and racial injustice and is widely known for his involvement in high-profile cases. He currently represents the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased and murdered by three men in Georgia in 2020. Now, Merritt hopes to be the state’s top lawyer.
“If you build it, they will come,” Merritt said. “I build a national practice that responds to those voters. I believe that they will come in response to that.”
At the forefront of his campaign, Merritt wants to fight what he sees as “a unique assault on voting rights in Texas,” in light of last year’s voting law.
“It’s going to be my priority to make voting easier in Texas and more accessible for all eligible voters. And to oppose the far right push to disenfranchise Texas voters,” Merritt said.
Facing an uphill battle in a Republican state, Merritt said he’s focused on energizing his blue base, not changing minds.
“We need Black and brown voters to be inspired to come out to the polls, and a centrist message, this design to catch possibly disgruntled Republicans voters is a losing strategy,” Merritt said. “Instead, we need to be pushing towards our base telling them that we’re going to fight for the issues that they care about.”
When asked about how he’ll combat the influence of Donald Trump, Merritt said he’s worked with the former president before to address the criminal justice system.
“Our job is to uphold the Constitution, which is not necessarily a partisan issue,” Merritt said. “So where we can find agreement, we found agreement, which resulted in some executive orders that would serve Texans, and where there’s disagreement, there’s a fight required.”
Merritt said he hasn’t given much thought to which Republican candidate he’d like to run against. With a partywide assault on matters of voting, critical race theory and defunding public schools, Merritt believes the Republican candidates are one and the same.
“He’s the devil that we know,” Merritt said about Attorney General Ken Paxton. “But there’s a saying about the devil that you don’t know, that can be even worse.”
If elected, Merritt said his first priority will be protecting the right to vote by addressing gerrymandering and voter suppression and restoring a Civil Rights unit to the Attorney General’s Office.
“Once voters are empowered, we can begin to address all the other systemic issues that plagued Texas,” Merritt said.
Any candidate needs more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. Recently polling from the University of Texas/Texas Politics Project shows a runoff is a likely outcome of both the Republican and Democratic primaries for AG. Civil rights attorney Rochelle Garza is leading Democrats with 41% of primary voters. Trial lawyer Joe Jaworski comes in second with 24% of Democratic primary voters, civil rights attorney Merritt has 15% and former judge Mike Fields polls at 11%. One other candidate, attorney S. “Tbone” Raynor polls at 6%.
The last day of early voting is Feb. 25 and the primary itself is on Tuesday, March 1.