State Rep. Drew Springer of Muenster prevailed Saturday over fellow Republican Shelley Luther in a special election runoff for a state Senate seat that was animated by Gov. Greg Abbott and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
With all polling locations reporting, Springer defeated Luther by 13 percentage points, according to unofficial results.
Luther is the Dallas salon owner who was jailed earlier this year over her refusal to close her business due to coronavirus restrictions. Throughout the race, she was an outspoken critic of Abbott, who endorsed Springer in the runoff and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own campaign funds to beat back Luther in the race to succeed outgoing state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper.
Abbott took to Twitter Saturday night to congratulate Springer on an "overwhelming" win. Springer also declared victory on social media, saying he "will continue advancing the conservative priorities of our district like reducing property taxes, securing the border, and standing up for our law enforcement and first responders who keep our communities safe."
"I will fight to ensure Texas remains the premier place in the nation to do business, so we can unleash the private sector to create jobs and move us out of this recession," Springer said.
Luther congratulated Springer on Facebook in a statement that was otherwise defiant about the high-powered opposition she faced.
"What they don’t know is that it only emboldens me more," Luther wrote. "I won’t back down, and I’m not going anywhere."
Luther ran as a political outsider, attacking Springer as a tool of the "Austin swamp" who would go along to get along in the upper chamber. Springer campaigned as a proven conservative, arguing Luther could not be trusted.
When it came to the pandemic, Luther leaned heavily on her experience being sent to jail, labeling Abbott a "tyrant" over the business shutdowns he initiated and calling for a 2022 primary challenge to the governor. While not as bombastic, Springer also expressed disagreement with some of the governor's coronavirus handling, even after earning Abbott's endorsement.
The race was triggered by Fallon's ascension to the U.S. House, which began in August when he won the Republican nomination to replace former U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, on the November ballot after Ratcliffe was named national intelligence director. That led to a vacancy in Texas Senate District 30, which is reliably red and covers a large part of mostly rural North Texas that wraps around the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Luther and Springer finished neck and neck in the initial six-way special election in late September, with Luther leading Springer by 115 votes.
Abbott stayed out of the first round of the race but went all in during the runoff. He endorsed Springer earlier this month, and then his campaign made over a quarter-million dollars of in-kind donations to Springer's and went on TV with a Luther attack ad in the runoff's final week.
At the same time, Luther's top benefactor — by far — was Tim Dunn, the activist-right megadonor and Midland oilman. He loaned Luther $1 million before the September election and directly gave her $700,000 in the runoff.
Springer's win was especially satisfying for intraparty critics of Dunn and Empower Texans, the conservative advocacy group whose board Dunn chairs. Among those celebrating was outgoing state House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, whose 2019 meeting with Empower Texans' Michael Quinn Sullivan — secretly recorded by Sullivan — preceded the speaker's decision not to seek reelection.
"Congrats to my friend, Senator-elect [Drew Springer]!" Bonnen tweeted Sunday morning. "Your well-deserved victory is a huge triumph over those who seek to destroy the Republican Party and the values of statesmanship, collaboration, and decency held dear by the Texas Legislature," Bonnen said.
Aliyya Swaby contributed reporting