Wendy Davis: Born To Run?

by Michael A. Maynard
September 25, 2013

Can Wendy Davis change the direction of Texas politics by herself?

Wendy Davis' Red Sneakers
“Dave Carney, a sharp political adviser who has helped guide Rick Perry’s state campaigns, tried to take on Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, over guns.

But he might have shot himself in the foot. …

He retweeted: “Total Recall in CO (and why Wendy Davis is too Stupid to be Governor)” Following the link supplied by Carney were posts that referred to Davis as “retard Barbie” and used other insulting language.

This social media fracas followed Abbott responding positively to a tweet last month that also called Davis “retard Barbie.” Abbott thanked the poster for his support.”

What Mr. Carney failed to mention was that this was the third time the Texas State Senator and Gubernatorial candidate was called stupid by the campaign of her opponent, Texas’ Attorney General, Greg Abbott. This childish and puerile name calling is symbolic of the growing fear and anger of the aging white males, who are slowly losing their domination of federal, state and local governments and judiciary. Wendy Davis has become one of the most visible symbol and target of their fear.

The world became aware of and watched in awe as one brave woman stood up against the aging white male political establishment in Texas. Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis drew a large Internet viewership, including myself, for her filibuster to protest against and delay the inevitable passage of restrictive women’s reproductive rights legislation. Here is the video of Senator Davis during the last moments of her 24 hour filibuster and the reaction of the crowd gathered in the Texas Capitol Rotunda to watch her gallant fight:

The pink sneakers that Davis’ wore throughout the filibuster became an instant best seller on Amazon.com and throughout the Internet in the days after. .

Wendy Davis is a remarkable and typical American success story, except the story does not have a male as the central figure.
Child of divorced parents.
Raised by a single mom.
From age 14, held various low wage jobs to help support her family.
Became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter at 18.
Got divorced.
Started living in a trailer park as a single mom.
Became first member of her family to go to college.
Held two jobs to support her child while attending college.
Attended a two year state college.
Graduated from the two year college.
Got a full scholarship while attending Texas Christian University.
Graduated first in her class with Bachelors Degree in English.
Went to Harvard Law School. Graduated from Harvard Law School with honors.
Was admitted to the Texas Bar Association.
Received a clerkship position with a federal judge’s office.
Joined a major Texas law firm.
Was part-owner of a title search law firm.
Opened her own law firm (with a partner).
Elected 5 times to Fort Worth City Council. Won State Senate seat and was re-elected.
Was a Republican and changed to Democrat.
Became a national heroine.

Wendy Davis is far from stupid. Now, it’s likely she will be running against Greg Abbott to become the Governor of Texas. She will announce her political plans Thursday ,October 3.

My friend and frequent writing/editing partner, Mercedes Olivera, columnist for the Dallas Morning News, commented about the Wendy Davis phenomena:

All the cards are stacked against Davis in this red state — Democrats haven’t won a statewide office in 20 years.But Democrats also are somewhat to blame. Previously they haven’t fielded any gubernatorial candidates that inspired any kind of passion in voters the way Davis has. I’ve always been convinced that the right candidate with the right message can win any race — especially if they’ve got the money and a good ground game. Given the amount of fund-raising Davis is now doing outside, as well as inside, of Texas, chances are she’s going to raise enough money to give Abbott heartburn.

But Wendy faces significant challenges, if she chooses to run for governor. Like Texas political history:

Nationally, Democrats have done pretty well in recent elections in large part because they run so strongly with women. In 2012, for example, former Governor Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama 52 percent to 45 percent among men, but lost the overall popular vote because women went for his Democratic opponent 55 to 44 percent. The Democrats’ big national advantage with female voters is entirely driven by single women. Romney actually won married women 53 percent to 46 percent in 2012, but was crushed among unmarried women 67 percent to 31 percent.

Wendy Davis, like Ann Richards a generation earlier, will almost certainly do better with female voters in Texas, who make up 53-54 percent of the total vote, than the last four Democratic male nominees. Davis has particularly strong credentials, like Ann Richards, to appeal to single women, given her compelling person story of rising from trailer-park poverty to Harvard Law School and a successful political career.

I don’t want to suggest that gender voting will be decisive if Senator Davis runs, but it likely will be a major factor in cutting into the usual Republican majority.

Political views:

Davis is now and will continue to be inextricably linked to abortion rights, an unavoidable but potentially limiting part of her political appeal that she is already working to supplement. For Abbott, the return of abortion to center stage certainly does no harm in the run-up to the primary election, but presents more of a mixed bag going into the general election.

For both candidates, the return of abortion to the top of the agenda in Texas during the special legislative sessions presents opportunities to consolidate support and financial backers heading into the primary. But the choices they make will result in a potentially complicated general election dynamic.

Let’s start with where Abbott will be forced to position himself on the issue in the primary. According to our June 2013 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, 64 percent of Republicans wanted abortion banned outright or limited only to cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life was in jeopardy. Similarly, 59 percent wanted Texas’ abortion restrictions made stricter than they currently are and roughly 85 percent supported the 20-week ban that eventually passed.

And the Texas political pundits:

Perhaps Kanye West saw it coming before anyone else when he rapped in “Homecoming” about a girl named Windy, who when she met tough guys would “like to tow ‘em off/And make ‘em straighten up their hat cause she know they soft.” West’s description of a no-excuses, no-BS woman could easily fit Wendy Davis, the Texas senator who just took the state legislature by storm with her filibuster of Texas’ recently-approved twenty-week abortion ban. However, while Davis is the current poster child for the rebounding Texas Democrats, her long-term calling is probably to be the state party’s Moses: the hero needed to take the group to the promised land, but not the one to lead them in….

For all of Davis’ heroics, she is not the right person for the 2014 gubernatorial ticket. Her pet topic, abortion, may rally liberals across the nation to pour in large sums of money for her campaign, but her filibuster is a double-edged sword. No issue rallies partisans on both sides more fiercely than abortion. A UT survey found that 62 percent of Texans oppose abortion, and the pro-life faction has taken the possibility of a Davis campaign quite seriously. Davis will not kowtow to pro-lifers in any way: the senator dismissed polls showing that a majority of women support late-terms abortion bans by contending that “a lot of people don’t really understand … what’s happening in that arena today.” Regardless of the veracity of her statement, Davis’ tendency to speak her mind on abortion does her no favors with a Texas electorate where more women than men strongly support late-term abortion bans (48 percent to 45 percent).

But national pundits say she should run:

Strike when the iron is hot: It wasn’t too long ago that Davis was a largely unknown state senator with a reputation in some quarters for rankling her Republican colleagues. These days, she is a national figure, beloved by liberals and derided by conservatives. Since politics is a world in constant flux — one day you’re a star, the next you are nobody — Davis should capitalize on her new-found fame with a statewide bid. Through earned media alone, Davis has boosted her name recognition to a level that would normally cost millions of dollars in advertising. Who’s to say whether anyone will know or care about what she is doing in two, four, six or eight years? She’s a household name right now, and is arguably never going to find a more natural jumping off point for a gubernatorial campaign.

It’s not going to be easy. The latest PPP poll, in June 2013, shows Abbott with a 8% lead, down from 12% in January.

Assuming that State Senator Davis runs for Governor, she has 3 major issues to contend:

1. She has a major deficit in campaign contributions. As of June 1, Abbott has a $20 million war chest. He also has the state and national Republican political organizations to provide the support and logistics that help retiring Governor Rick Perry win the governorship twice. Davis has $1 million, but was receiving campaign contributions from throughout the country and support from groups like Emily’s List. It is very likely she will get monetary help for the national Democratic party and campaign help from national political figures.

2. She has never run for statewide office before. Her policies and style play well to her state senate suburban base, which is more liberal than most other areas of Texas. Will she be accepted and supported statewide? Can her suburban base offset the less cosmopolitan rest of Texas? Will the non-suburban voters resent Davis’ national popularity and pretty blonde figure as being “too showy”?

3. What does she do if she wins? How is she going to govern when the old boys’ club will still be the majority? It’s been 20 years since the force-of-nature that was Ann Richards was elected governor. Perry’s appointees and supporters are in political positions throughout the state. They could make it very difficult for Governor Davis to get any of her policies and programs implemented.

But Wendy Davis would be a very welcome change from the recent past in Texas politics. The state has voted in the “less-than-mentally-endowed” Rick Perry as governor; the “less-than-rational” United States House of Representatives Louie Gohmert and Steve Stockman, and the “less-than-rooted-in-reality” Ted Cruz to the United State Senate. Senator Cruz’s political stunt “non-filibuster” last night, allegedly to protest the budget funding to implement the Affordable Care Act” law, was considered by many, including myself, to be a more a sign of political jealousy of Wendy Davis than rational political maneuvering. Cruz wants to be “The Man” of Texas politics, even though he has become loathed, even by his Texas Republican Senate colleague, John Cronyn, and Texas’ House of Representatives members. Cruz is running for President in 2016.

So would other women candidates, like Kentucky ‘s Attorney General Alison Lundergen Grimes’ candidacy against long-time Senator and universally hated U.S. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell. My home state of Massachusetts is going to have a very interesting gubernatorial Democratic primary between Attorney General Martha Coakley and former US and State Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security and former Boston Globe columnist, Juliette Kayyam. The winner of the contest between these two very intelligent and capable women will likely face Republican retread dullard and former health insurance executive, Charlie Baker, in the general election. Of course, in 2016, there may be the chance to elect the first female US President after 45 males have held that office.

Will Wendy Davis become the new leader of Texas politics? Was Wendy born to run for governor and maybe even higher office?

We’ll find out on November 4, 2014.

Columnist/Journalist/Writer/Book Editor Co-Founder/CEO of Azimuth Partners, high tech consulting firm for 30+ years. Former columnist for the Washington Post/Newsweek syndicate.

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