PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Democrat Wendy Davis was never expected to win, but she certainly wasn’t supposed to get blown out like this.
Republican Greg Abbott is the first new Texas governor in 14 years â and he did it in a landslide. He crushed Davis by one of the biggest margins in any of three dozen gubernatorial races across the U.S., carrying nearly 60 percent of the vote by early Wednesday as Texas underwent its biggest political shake-up in decades.
It was nothing short of a humiliating loss for Davis and a campaign co-piloted by Battleground Texas, which was launched by the architects of President Barack Obama’s re-election. At worst, Democrats expected to come away with signs of making inroads in Texas after Gov. Rick Perry in 2010 beat the last Democrat who ran for governor by 13 points.
Instead, Davis fared worse, despite name recognition, a nationwide book tour and record-breaking fundraising for a Texas Democrat.
“Liberal Democrats from outside Texas flooded into this state vowing they would turn Texas blue,” Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said at Abbott’s victory party. “And tonight the citizens of Texas answered a resounding answer: ‘Don’t mess with Texas.'”
The loss was a sobering reality check for Democrats.
“Tonight I know that you are disappointed,” Davis told supporters gathered in her hometown of Fort Worth. “And being disappointed is OK. But being discouraged is not, because what we have before us is an opportunity to remake this state in your image.”
Davis won a little more than half of the Hispanic vote, but whites overwhelmingly picked Abbott.
And exit polling conducted for The Associated Press and television networks showed the first female Texas gubernatorial candidate since Ann Richards in 1994 didn’t carry women voters, despite making them one of her biggest targets.
“I voted straight Republican. It just lines up with what my beliefs are,” said 34-year-old Jamie Crow, of the Woodlands, who was among women who voted for Abbott.
Abbott, 56, will become the first elected governor in the U.S. to be in a wheelchair since 1982. The longtime state attorney general will bring with him an agenda of bare-knuckle conservatism.
Paralyzed from the waist down after being crushed by a falling tree during a jog as a law student, Abbott made his biography the cornerstone of his campaign.
“I am living proof that we live in a state where a young man’s life can literally be broken in half and yet he can still rise up and be governor of this great state,” Abbott said in his victory speech.
He will govern alongside Dan Patrick, a conservative talk radio host and founder of the tea party caucus in the Legislature. Patrick was easily elected lieutenant governor despite shunning reporters and using confrontational rhetoric that even other Republicans condemned.
In many ways, the outcomes farther down the ballot said more about Texas politics than the marquee and near-record $83 million race between Abbott and Davis.
Ken Paxton, another tea-party fixture who got a rare endorsement from Cruz, coasted to victory in the attorney general’s race despite the prospect of a criminal investigation into his work as an investment adviser. Republican Sid Miller hired shock rocker Ted Nugent as his campaign treasurer in his run for agriculture commissioner and beat a cattle rancher who was the Democratic nominee simply because the party didn’t put up anyone else.
While Texas Democrats haven’t won an elected statewide office in 20 years, it seemed inconceivable just 17 months ago â when Davis became a national sensation with a nearly 13-hour filibuster over abortion restrictions â that they would not measurably close the gap.
Davis struggled with strategy and the press early, changed campaign managers during the summer and aired risky television spots come fall, including one that highlighted Abbott’s use of a wheelchair, which made even some Democrats wince. As far as abortion, exit polling showed Texas voters were almost equally divided about whether the procedure should be legal.
“I was more hopeful about her campaign and I was disappointed in the amount of negative campaigning she did,” said Amy Chandler, a state employee in Austin who voted for Davis. “I didn’t (hear) enough from her that was positive, what her good ideas were.”
Associated Press writers Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Juan Carlos Llorca in El Paso, Michael Graczyk in The Woodlands and Jamie Stengle in Fort Worth contributed to this report.