While the legislative candidates endorsed by Governor Greg Abbott who are running against a Democratic incumbent or for an open seat fared well in the recent election, the two Abbott-endorsed incumbents in Republican runoffs were defeated by wide margins.
The runoff elections that Abbott was involved in played out in the context of growing tensions within the Republican Party statewide.
Grassroots conservatives have become frustrated with the governor in light of the many coronavirus-related executive orders that he has issued, including the measures that led to the closure of businesses and mandatory masks.
Many of the candidates running against Abbott-backed opponents — including Bryan Slaton in HD 2, Jennifer Fleck in HD 45, Shelby Slawson in HD 59, and Jon Francis in HD 60 — actively supported reopening the state after the lockdown that lasted throughout April and into May.
Since the beginning of July, several county Republican executive committees have passed resolutions censuring Abbott and requesting the state party convention do the same with added penalties.
But if the intra-party discontent with Abbott was a major factor for voters, it appears to have played out differently among incumbents and non-incumbents.
Reps. Dan Flynn (R-Van) and J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) in HD 2 and HD 60, respectively, both lost the runoff races by a little over 20 points each.
Abbott’s campaign contributed around $30,000 to each of their campaigns in the financial filing period prior to the runoff.
After the primary election in March, Flynn received 45 percent of the vote, seemingly poised to make a much stronger showing in the runoff than Sheffield, who only received 30 percent of the vote to Slawson’s 46 percent.
But the results on Tuesday night were not too different — Flynn lost with 39 percent and Sheffield with 38 percent, according to the most recent unofficial results from the secretary of state.
There were three other legislative runoff candidates that Abbott gave his support to: Jacey Jetton in HD 26, Justin Berry in HD 47, and Glenn Rogers in HD 60.
Abbott’s endorsement for Jetton came in January, while Abbott endorsed Berry and Rogers in June.
The governor’s presence in those races were more notable, especially in the HD 60 race where Abbott’s campaign made a last-minute $40,000 TV ad buy.
In the filing period leading up to the runoff, Abbott’s political groups donated slightly more to these three races than to Flynn and Sheffield.
The results of the races without incumbents were also much closer.
Berry led by the largest margin of the night, coming ahead of Fleck with 55 percent of the vote.
Jetton defeated Matt Morgan with 52 percent of the vote and Rogers edged out Francis with 51 percent.
Aside from the legislative races, there were a few other runoff elections where Abbott endorsed a candidate, and all won.
In the GOP runoff for the fifth district of the State Board of Education, Abbott-backed Lani Popp won with 78 percent of the vote against Robert Morrow, a controversial figure who endorsed Popp’s Democratic opponent after losing.
Justice Larry Doss of the 7th Court of Appeals was the only winning incumbent in a runoff who was endorsed by Abbott. He defeated Steven Denny with 58 percent of the vote.
Lastly, in the race for one of the Hood County commissioner seats, Jack Wilson defeated Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury) with 65 percent of the vote and almost 900 votes.
Lang has been sharply critical of Abbott and his executive orders throughout the past several months, supporting county resolutions declaring all businesses as “essential” in contrast with lockdown requirements and calling on Abbott to hold a special legislative session to address the pandemic.
Wilson quickly rose to national prominence when he heroically stopped a shooting at his church in White Settlement with a single shot.
Abbott endorsed Wilson in June.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.