The runoff election taking place in SD 30 should not be happening. When the seat became vacant, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his political advisors engineered a foolproof election calendar designed for an establishment, lobby-favored candidate to win easily. Except it hasn’t worked out that they.

The candidate filing period was open for less than week, and the election was set for less than 30 days – completely unheard of in Texas’ modern history. It was outside a legislative session and within weeks of a general election. The only reason to call a lighting-fast special election was to rig the outcome.

In this sense alone, SD 30 is a massive loss to Austin’s swampy, lobbyist-controlled culture. It revealed that the citizens were not interested in what they were being told to buy.

The lobby-favored candidate, of course, was State Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster). His most notable achievement to date had been (unsuccessfully) helping a Chinese drone manufacturer. Under the Capitol dome, he’s most known for doing what he’s told by whoever happens to be in power.

But a challenge to the establishment’s schemes arose in the form of an unlikely political force named Shelley Luther. A former teacher and part-time rock band singer, Luther skyrocketed to national prominence over the summer by becoming the face of small businesses suffering under the economic shutdown ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott.

After re-reading state laws governing the hair salon she owned, Luther defiantly reopened her business. Dallas Democrats, drunk on the powers handed to them by the state’s Republican chief executive, tossed her in jail for two days until her release was ordered by the Supreme Court of Texas. Most infuriatingly for Gov. Abbott, her defiance forced him to reopen hair salons and rewrite his executive orders.

In a special election Springer should have easily won, he ended up placing second. Trying to reset the narrative, Abbott scheduled the runoff to occur three months later, on Dec. 19. That meant the runoff period would be three times the length of the original special election!

This was no accident; it was engineered to help Mr. Springer. Gov. Abbott’s political team hoped the onslaught of the general election would erase Springer’s poor performance from the voters’ minds. Lobby money by the millions has piled up in his campaign account, even as the governor has taken to the airwaves promoting him with independent expenditures.

Yet Luther has campaigned on; her personal popularity seems to not have waned. She’s talked about Springer’s record, while his campaign has accused her (among other things) of being married to her father! Desperation isn’t a good look on any incumbent, especially one being aided by the governor.

I’m not privy to the internal polling of either campaign, but tomorrow’s election is already a loss for the Austin lobby establishment. The tawdry accusations made against a Republican female business owner will no doubt further erode the party’s support among suburban women at the worst possible time.

In order for them to save face, Drew Springer must win the election by double-digits. That’s the only way to justify the massive expenditures they made on his behalf. Anything else, and it will be evidence the ruling elite have been taken to the mat by the taxpayers.

But it’s probably too late, even for that.

Let’s make no mistake, this race – from the beginning – has been a referendum on the Austin establishment’s handling of the coronavirus and the economic shutdown. Springer proudly represents the Austin insider establishment, while Luther stands in for unwilling small business owners forced to care about politics.

Under these circumstances, even a “win” is a loss for the insiders.

Overused sports analogies would have us believe that in politics “a win is a win” ; but that isn’t true in either sports or politics. Quality counts. Springer has had to disavow his previous positions and make uncomfortably substantial commitments on others. That’s costly to the Austin establishment lobby if he wins; costly in money, costly in reputation, and costly in results.

Even more costly, of course, would be if Luther wins. As in the first-round special election in September, a win by Luther with even a hundred votes would be another ding against Greg Abbott’s aspirations to be the George W. Bush of the 2024 presidential hunt.

Because, ultimately, the fact that there is a runoff at all in SD 30 is a (poor) reflection of Greg Abbott’s political organizing skills.

It is a vivid reminder that, despite his best efforts to engineer an election to aid his cronies, Greg Abbott could not perform. Mr. Abbott couldn’t keep that hairstylist in jail, he couldn’t keep her out of a senate race, and he may not be able to keep her out of the Senate.

Even if by some chance Drew Springer wins, it will be the hollow victory of a runoff that should never have been.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."