I generally don’t write about local courthouse races, but the Republican primary battle for county judge of Harris County, little noticed out of the Houston metro area, is one of the most important contests in the state this year, because Democrats are mounting a major effort to do in Houston what they did in Dallas two years ago: sweep the courthouse races. The winner of this primary becomes, in effect, the standardbearer of the GOP effort to hold off off the Democrats. The rival candidates are Ed Emmett, a former state legislator and Republican consultant — he handled the Tim Kleinschmidt race against Robbie Cook in 2006 — whom county commissioners named to succeed Robert Eckels following Eckels’ resignation a year ago, and former district clerk Charles Bacarisse.

This has been a red-hot race, as is evident from this excerpt from an open letter Emmett sent out on Saturday:

In recent days, the Charles Bacarisse campaign has been running a radio ad that is a lie. Period. Charles knows it’s a lie and so does everyone in the media.

Specifically, Charles has falsely alleged that my company has an “open contract” with the Port of Houston. In a blunt letter written last week, the general counsel of the Port of Houston flatly stated that was not the case. He confirmed I have never had a contract of any kind with the Port.

Furthermore, I have never attempted to obtain a contract with the Port. My company has never done so.

The next day, Bacarisse changed his radio ad. He now falsely says I am under investigation for an improper business relationship with the Port.

County Attorney Mike Stafford has directly told Charles, Republican leaders and the media there is no such investigation. It doesn’t exist. Again, there is no business relationship between me and the Port.

This so-called investigation is a figment of Charles’ imagination.

One thing that makes this battle so fierce is that Emmett is generally viewed as aligned with the moderate wing of the Republican party, as was Eckels before him, while Bacarisse is regarded as aligned with conservatives. The Democratic nominee will be David Minceberg. The D’s would much prefer to face Bacarisse, but it’s going to be a war in November either way.