Political newcomer Shelley Luther is one step closer to the Texas Senate. The Dallas salon owner and Gainesville state Rep. Drew Springer advanced to a runoff race Tuesday after they virtually tied for District 30.
Luther earned 164 more votes than Springer, finishing with 32.17% to his 31.93%, according to The Texas Tribune.
“We’re just really excited and ready to battle it out for a little bit longer,” Luther told the Observer on Thursday.
“I think that Texans need something new and someone that will stand up for what they believe in, and I’ve proven that I’ve stood up in the past,” she said.
Although she doesn’t have a background in politics, experts say Luther has a real shot at the state Senate. She’s gotten the approval of dyed-in-the-wool conservatives such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and President Donald Trump and certainly isn’t shy about condemning the governor’s coronavirus response.
Luther became known after she refused to close her salon despite a governor’s mandate that shuttered non-essential businesses to slow coronavirus transmissions. Since then, she’s been a “thorn in the side” of Gov. Greg Abbott and the right-wing old guard, said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.
The governor has not yet announced when the runoff election will be held for SD-30, which covers parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Springer, who enjoys the support of many conservative lobbying groups, may be at a disadvantage if it’s scheduled after the general election on Nov. 3, Jones said.
“Republican leadership is going to have to work very hard to push Springer over the bar against Luther in a special election runoff,” Jones said. “The spotlight will be just on that race, where the anger that is present within the Republican base towards the leadership, particularly Gov. Abbott, is still palpable.”
Constituents who live in Springer’s current district will likely be more inclined to vote for him because they’re familiar with his leadership, said professor Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, chair of the political science department at the University of North Texas. In that sense, Springer is the safer choice because voters understand his capacity to pass laws that will benefit them directly, Eshbaugh-Soha said.
It helps that Springer understands the legislative process and has built solid connections in conservative political circles, he added.
Yet Luther’s name recognition and her campaign’s deep pockets could carry her far in this race, Eshbaugh-Soha said.
“I think she stands a really good chance because she can really inundate people with a message that is going to be fairly simple and that is going to criticize Greg Abbott’s response to COVID-19,” he said. “She has credibility on that issue, and she really seems very personable and able to relate to people.”
Luther’s outspokenness resonates with certain Texas conservatives, Jones said. A Luther win would likely be a “disruptive force” in the Texas Legislature, he said.
The state’s Republican majority is narrowing, he added, so if she is unwilling to budge on certain issues, it could be a boon to Democratic lawmakers.
“You’d get a grandstanding gadfly with no understanding of policy becoming a state senator,” he said. “That’s not a big deal in the House where there are 150 [lawmakers], but in the Senate where there are only 31, it’s much more noticeable.”
Meanwhile, Springer has a long conservative legislative record, and his positions have been consistent throughout his tenure, Jones said.
Luther may work to ingratiate herself with the leadership instead of attacking them, Jones said. There is also the possibility, he added, that she will continue to employ a combative tone to remain in the spotlight.
Yet what some may call obstinacy and inexperience, Luther sees as an uncompromising resolve to benefit regular Texans.
“I can work well with anyone, but I’m going to stand on my conservative values,” she said. “I will not back down on that.”
Should she be elected, Luther would work to fully reopen the state’s economy, saying that “everything should be opened up completely as if [the coronavirus] never happened.” It’s up to those with preexisting conditions to protect themselves, she told the Observer last month.
In addition to being staunchly anti-abortion, Luther said she’s a firm gun rights supporter who believes Texans should be able to bring their firearms with them wherever they go.
Springer did not immediately return a request for comment.
Luther’s platform falls squarely in line with standard conservative ideologies: restrain government, defend the police, leave Confederate monuments alone, make it illegal for transgender kids to transition.
For his part, Springer’s biggest political issues are pretty much the same, according to his website.
Should she secure the win, Eshbaugh-Soha said, Luther could have a career in national politics.
“If she’s able to pull this off and demonstrate that she can do some of the work of a legislator … she might be a rising star,” he said.
Luther said she isn’t moving to D.C. any time soon.
“I am not looking that far,” she said. “One step at a time.”
Luther and Springer are looking to fill the Senate seat vacated by Republican Pat Fallon, who is running for Congress.
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