By\u00a0Ross Ramsey\r\nThe strangest regular session in the modern history of the Texas Legislature is ending, but the pandemic shadow that darkened these proceedings isn\u2019t finished with the state\u2019s government and politics.\r\nTexas might be moving from a weird legislative session into a strange political cycle.\r\nBecause of the pandemic, the Legislature\u2019s\u00a0work isn\u2019t done. And because that work isn\u2019t done, the issues and the political fortunes that will be in play in the 2022 election year are uncertain.\r\nCOVID-19 delayed last year\u2019s census. Because those numbers won\u2019t be ready for four months, lawmakers didn\u2019t have the data needed to draw new political districts for the state\u2019s\u00a038 U.S. House seats, 31 state Senate and 150 state House spots, and the 15 seats on the State Board of Education.\r\nThe mapmaking that would have taken place over the last five months is still ahead. Delayed maps could well mean delayed political primaries in 2022. Shifts of that sort can be disruptive, giving challengers and political nobodies time to catch up with established politicians.\r\nIt happened in 2012 when primaries were pushed from March to May as a result of redistricting litigation. That year\u2019s U.S. Senate campaign frontrunner was Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Ted Cruz, who\u2019d never been on a ballot, was the leader of a field of candidates who, unlike Dewhurst, had never run for statewide office in Texas.\r\nCruz was running for second, vying not for an outright win in the Republican primary, but for the chance to face Dewhurst alone in a runoff. And the delay in the elections not only pushed that primary back \u2014 it pushed the runoff into July.\r\nCruz finished the first leg 12.5 percentage points behind Dewhurst, about as far behind as he had been in University of Texas\/Texas Tribune polls in\u00a0October 2011\u00a0and\u00a0February 2012. When the July runoff came around, the extended campaigns had Dewhurst on his heels. Cruz had time to flip the results,\u00a0turning that 12-point deficit into an almost 14-percentage-point victory, by raising his profile and the balance in his campaign account.\r\nMaybe nothing like that will happen in 2022. It\u2019s unlikely in a high-profile, statewide race. But it\u2019s certainly possible, and it\u2019s especially dangerous to lesser-known incumbents in races lower on the ballot. Many of those races will be in newly drawn political districts \u2014 already destabilizing for incumbents \u2014 and newcomers with money, or with the time that a delay can provide, or both, could benefit.\r\nRedistricting is the culprit this time, too.\r\nTiming isn\u2019t everything. Issues that remain unsettled after this regular session will play in next year\u2019s elections, too. That\u2019s why Lt. Gov.\u00a0Dan Patrick\u00a0was pressing so hard at the end\u00a0as three of his pet projects fell short in the House. It\u2019s why current and former Republican officeholders started declaring their candidacies at the end of the session \u2014 because of perceived weaknesses of the people in top jobs now.\r\nFormer state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas plans to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott in the GOP primary and contends the governor isn\u2019t conservative enough. Land Commissioner\u00a0George P. Bush\u00a0is mounting a challenge to Attorney General\u00a0Ken Paxton, contending he isn\u2019t ethical enough.\r\nIn a political environment like this one, incumbents want trophies they can show voters, and in this case, that means trophies that are important to conservative Republican voters, like legislation allowing most adults to carry handguns without permits or licenses, outlawing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, tightening voting laws after a national election that many conservatives \u2014 despite the available evidence \u2014 believe was crooked.\r\nAnd don\u2019t forget the oldest motive in politics \u2014 winning the public\u2019s attention. The state budget is the most important piece of legislation in any session, and also one of the least sexy. Political campaigns, and reputations, are more often built on flashy, easy-to-digest ideas, like alcoholic drinks to go, or on usually complicated or boring issues that have the public\u2019s attention, like the state\u2019s response to electrical outages during a February winter storm.\r\nWhen state lawmakers come back for a special session, those are the kinds of issues that could resurface. Redistricting will be at the top \u2014 you have to have maps to have elections \u2014 but these are politicians, and they\u2019ll be months closer to elections and even more sensitive than they are now to what voters want.\r\nThe strange pandemic legislative session is almost over, but state politics will be feeling the effects for some time.\r\nThis story originally published by the Texas Tribune.