Dave Montgomery Austin Correspondent
AUSTIN – State Sen. Wendy Davis says she will announce her political plans on Oct. 3, intensifying speculation that she is preparing to jump into the 2014 governor’s race. “There’s one question I’ve gotten quite often in the past few months. I’ve heard it online, while I’m traveling around the state, from the media, and in my Fort Worth neighborhood: What’s next?” the Fort Worth Democrat said in an email Sept. 18. “On Oct. 3rd, I’ll be answering that question. And as part of my dedicated network of grassroots supporters, you will be among the very first to find out.” The email, released as a paid political ad, came days after a Sunday memorial service for Davis’ father, Jerry Russell, founder of Stage West and a Fort Worth theater director and actor who died Sept. 5. Davis had planned to unveil her political plans in early September but delayed the announcement to help care for her father after he became critically ill.
Davis emerged as a potential 2014 gubernatorial contender after soaring to national political attention by filibustering a Republican-backed abortion bill in the first of three special legislative sessions on June 25. The Texas Democratic Party has launched an online “We Want Wendy” campaign urging her to jump into the race. Attorney General Greg Abbott is heavily favored to win the Republican nomination to succeed Gov. Rick Perry, who has decided against seeking an unprecedented fourth four-year term. Abbott faces a GOP primary challenge from former Texas Republican Chairman Tom Pauken, who said recently that he would be a “much better” GOP candidate against Davis than Abbott. Davis has spent more than two months deciding whether to run for governor or seek re-election to the Tarrant County state senate seat that she has held since January 2009. The prevailing view among political experts and many of her supporters is that she will run for governor. Many believe she has already made up her mind
“She’s real close,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist whose brother, J.D. Angle, is Davis’ chief political consultant. “This thing is going to clarify itself real quickly.” The email, which included what has become a signature photo of Davis signaling a two-fingered no vote against the abortion bill, invited supporters to enlist friends and family through Twitter and Facebook messages to “receive the news early.” Supporters were asked to sign up on an online site containing Davis’ photo and large type declaring: “What will Wendy Davis do next? Be Among the First to Find out.” The email also said that Davis “plans to release additional details a few days in advancement of the announcement.” It did not say where or how the announcement would be made.
Except for the period she was with her ailing father, Davis has traveled extensively and worked the phones consulting with supporters, political strategists, fundraisers and friends in preparing for her announcement. She has kept her plans closely guarded. “I really don’t know,” former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said Sept. 17 when asked whether Davis had told him of her intentions. “If she chooses to run [for governor], she’ll be a formidable candidate. She’s an aggressive campaigner and it would be a mistake for anyone to write her off. “ Abbott’s press secretary, Avdiel Huerta, said the campaign had no comment on Davis’ email. Jim Henson, director of the University of Texas Politics Project, said Davis’ email is the latest signal that she is planning to run. “It’s hard to imagine that she wouldn’t,” said the political analyst. Henson said Davis faces “some pretty significant obstacles” as a Democrat in a Republican-dominated state but would come into the race with a burst of popularity and star power that has eluded previous Democratic candidates in recent years. Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 1994. “On one hand, she starts with a deficit like any other statewide Democrat does,” said Henson. “On the other hand, she seems likely to be the strongest Democratic candidate that we’ve seen in the last decade, possibly longer. “I think there is no way to look at this and not consider her the underdog,” said Henson, “but in some ways that’s going to be part of her appeal.” Another strength, said Henson, is her appeal to women voters.
Abbott, who has been attorney general since 2002, has long been portrayed as Perry’s heir apparent and had more than $23 million in his campaign treasury by the end of June. Davis, who has run two hard-fought elections for the state Senate, is also a powerful fundraiser and received more than $1 million in a six-week period after her filibuster. Her campaign advisers have projected that a run for governor would cost between $35 million and $45 million. Republicans are likely to recycle some of their themes from Davis’ 2012 Senate re-election race, portraying her as a liberal Democrat supportive of the Obama Administration. But Davis has recently denounced the Justice Department’s lawsuit to block the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, saying it would threaten thousands of jobs in North Texas. Abbott, as Texas attorney general, has joined the Justice Department in the lawsuit on the grounds that the merger would hurt competition and increase airfares and fees. “The Republican party has been operating under the assumption that she’s been running for governor since this summer,” said Texas Republican Chairman Steve Munisteri, “and we welcome her into the race.”
Munisteri also suggested that Republicans have some “surprises” lined up for Davis after she enters the race. “There’s quite a bit of research material on her,” he said. “Within a week after she announces, we’ll be making some announcements of our own.” “I don’t think she can get more than 45 or 46 percent,” said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak. “She obviously has someone who’s convincing her she can win. And No. 2, I just think she feels so much pressure to run that she felt like she couldn’t say no.”