The victory by Dan Barrett in the District 97 runoff is astonishing. This is a solid Republican district. Barrett went into the runoff with a 1,558 vote lead over Mark Shelton. The other five Republicans had amassed 7,886 votes between them. If both candidates held onto their votes from the first election, Shelton needed only 19.7% of the voters for the losing Republicans in order to overtake Barrett. He didn’t get them, and he didn’t get them for the right reason: Na na na na na, cheaters never win. Without those last-minute, unattributed robo-calls undermining Bob Leonard, Shelton would never have made the runoff. Leonard was ahead in the early voting.

Shelton ran a bad race. He waffled about the robo-calls. He had bad campaign materials. One Republican voter told me about getting a flyer from Shelton that talked about his being an Eagle Scout and all three of his sons being Eagle Scouts — and then viciously attacked Barrett, a trial lawyer, undermining the character issue Shelton was trying to promote. Then there was his open endorsement of Tom Craddick. Why do it? Which voters were going to think to themselves, “I have to go vote for Shelton so that Tom Craddick can be speaker”? I wonder whether Craddick wanted Shelton to go public so that, expecting Shelton to win, he could make the race a referendum on himself. Be careful what you wish for.

Since Tom Craddick became speaker, the Republicans have lost a net nine seats. The Republican majority has shrunk from 26 to 8. Craddick has argued in appearances before Republican groups that if he loses the speakership, the Democrats win, but the evidence suggests that the opposite is true: Because of him, Republicans are losing their majority. You have to think that at some point Republican candidates in contested races against Democrats, or even in Republican primaries, are going to ask themselves whether Craddick is a benefit or a burden. And, for that matter, you would think that at some point Republican honchos, from Rick Perry down to the money guys and the consultants and the lobbyists, would start to worry that he could cost them their majority. If this isn’t part of the Republican conversation, it had better be.

I feel called upon to confess error here. I said it was all but impossible for the Democrats to win this race. I said that ParentPAC was taking an unnecessary risk by getting in this race. I was going with the percentages, but the percentages were wrong, and so was I. The lesson I am taking from this race is that Democrats are more motivated than Republicans and their campaign techniques appear to be superior to Republicans. As Burnt Orange Report observes today, “We’ve not even had a single vote cast the 2008 primaries, and there are now 71 Democrats in Texas House.”

Can Barrett hold the seat in the general election? It seems unlikely–but it was unlikely that he could win this race.