Casual observers may not have been aware, but Gov. Greg Abbott is on the ballot in the Senate District 30 Special Election. It should have been a walk in the park for current state Rep. Drew Springer, a candidate Abbott previously endorsed, but the ground was shaken by Shelley Luther, a firebrand conservative who ran on a campaign fueled by anger at Abbott over his COVID-19 response.
Luther is the reason Abbott began opening bars and amusement parks in the spring, ahead of CDC recommendations, instead of focusing on safely opening schools in the fall. Her political stunt to open her salon in defiance of his order caused Abbott to blink and pivot his response away from the advice of health professionals towards shoring up his base. Abbott removed the teeth from his own order meant to slow the spread of the virus and held a press conference hailing Luther as a victim of government overreach — his government overreach. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, thought to be considering a challenge to Abbott for the governorship, literally bailed Luther out to a tune of $7,000. While Abbott and Patrick thought they were hitching their floats to the next Tea Party parade, Luther was raising half a million in a GoFundMe campaign as an “American Hero” on a “journey back to freedom.” So if Luther is the hero, guess who the villain is? Yep, Gov. Greg Abbott, who she called a “tyrant” on the campaign trail.
Over the summer, Abbott tried his best to regain the graces of his base by holding campaign press conferences promising to go after Antifa and pledging to “back the blue,” but a quick scroll through the comments of any of his social posts make it clear they are not taking the bait. His latest poll numbers reflect the same shift in sentiment, tanking him to 38%, the bottom of the pack nationally, when asked to rate governors’ handling of the virus. This is likely why Abbott did not endorse in the SD 30 race, not because he didn’t have a favorite, but because he knows his name is Mudd in grassroots conservative circles.
The blood is in the water and other ambitious Republicans are watching closely. State Party Chair Allen West, who has joined other prominent elected Republicans in a new lawsuit against Abbott, has also criticized his response to COVID-19. As Democrats get closer to flipping the state, the likes of West and Dan Patrick may see 2022 as the end of an era and their last shot at being Governor of Texas.
Other detractors from the right aren’t waiting. Abbott has lost the confidence and support of several elected Republicans, and was censured by a number of GOP county parties. When it comes to SD 30 the conservative media, donors and activists have poured ink, sweat and cash into sending Governor Abbott a message. The Texas Scorecard called the race a “proxy for the divide between Austin’s political insiders and conservative grassroots who want someone who will fight Abbott’s unilateral executive orders and oppressive coronavirus mandates.” They are even promoting a protest against “King Abbott” for October 10th at the Governor’s mansion. Tim Dunn, the oil magnate and backer of the rightwing astroturf outfit Empower Texans, loaned the salon owner $1,000,000 in her quest to take on the Abbott accolade — that’s a lot of haircuts!
The referendum on “King Abbot” continues as the race moves to a runoff between Shelley Luther and Drew Springer. Will Abbott remain behind the lines with his fingers crossed or will he dip into his massive warchest in an attempt to cut off the plebian threat at the pass? This battle is new territory for the career politician and it’s one that can’t be won by executive order.
Joe Deshotel is originally from Beaumont, Texas, but a combination of live music, politics, and natural beauty brought him to Austin in 2010. He has over a decade of experience in public policy that covers federal, state, and local government and has worked on a number of successful election campaigns. He continues to consult on Democratic campaigns and serves as the Chair of Austin’s Community Development Commission which advocates for affordable housing and solutions for homelessness.