Dave Montgomery Austin Correspondent
AUSTIN – Although her Republican adversary has a 3-to-1 lead in available cash, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis appears on track to becoming one of the state’s most formidable Democratic fundraisers after putting together a far-flung base of donations that range from $1 million from an Austin physician to hundreds of low-dollar contributions from Texas and beyond. The Fort Worth state senator, who jumped into the race more than three months ago, detailed her fundraising activity in campaign reports that listed 71,843 individual donors from both inside and outside of Texas. Former Houston Mayor Bill White, the 2010 Democratic nominee for governor, had about half that number in raising a total of $26 million – hailed as a record or near-record for Democratic fundraising in Texas.
“We had in the range of 34,000 donors, and it took us a year-plus to do it,” White’s former campaign chairman, Scott Atlas, said in recalling the Democratic candidate’s race against Republican Gov. Rick Perry. “She’s got – what? – 71,000-plus in three months. It’s quite impressive what she’s done. I mean it’s remarkable.” Atlas, an attorney-businessman, said Davis is on track “to exceed our numbers.” Since entering the race on Oct. 3, Davis has hauled in $8.7 million through her two main fundraising committees as well as $3.5 million through the Texas Victory Committee, a joint fundraising effort created by her campaign and the Democrat-affiliated Battleground Texas. Although Republicans dispute the inclusion of the Victory Committee donations in Davis’ $12.2 million total, even the opposition acknowledges that Davis is off to a robust start as she works toward a target of at least $40 million in advance of the Nov. 4 general election. “She has enough to be the strongest Democratic candidate for governor in more than two decades,” said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, “but not enough to win.” Davis is expected to face Attorney General Greg Abbott, whom Mackowiak describes as “the most successful Republican fundraiser in the history of the State of Texas.” Abbott, who has long been depicted as Perry’s Republican heir apparent, raised $16.3 million through 2013 and had $27 million cash on hand.
The combined cash-on-hand from the three committees raising money for Davis totaled $9 million. Davis raised $4.2 million through the gubernatorial campaign committee that was created when she entered the governor’s race. Another $4.5 million went into the state senator’s officeholder/candidate account. The Texas Victory Committee raised $3.5 million. Campaign reports for the 2014 elections had to be submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission in advance of a midnight deadline Jan. 15, detailing fundraising and expenditures from July 1 to Dec. 31 of 2013. Other reports will be submitted throughout the remainder of the 2014 election season. Abbott raised $11.5 million during the six-month reporting period while Davis reported a total of $12.2 million through the three committees, enabling the Democratic contender to claim a fundraising advantage over her likely Republican adversary in the opening stage of the governor’s race. Most headlines trumpeted the $12.2 million figure. The Abbott campaign accused the Davis camp of “fuzzy math” by counting the Victory Committee figures toward Davis’ overall total, contending that part of the expenditures would be used by Battleground Texas, which was created last year to help build a Democratic resurgence in Republican-dominated Texas. But Davis’ team responded that Battleground Texas is working alongside the Davis campaign and is directing its resources toward a Davis gubernatorial victory. Abbott and Davis are both expected to breeze past token opponents in the March 4 primary as they head toward a full-bore confrontation in November. Energized Democrats say Davis offers them the first credible opportunity to reclaim a post that they haven’t held since Democratic Gov. Ann Richards left office in January 1995. But Abbott is widely perceived as the front-runner in a conservative state that consistently elects Republicans to statewide office. Nevertheless, analysts said, Davis’ robust fundraising activity in her first bid for statewide office signals that she has the political muscle to wage a fierce challenge, if not an upset, against the state’s Republican leadership. “What it demonstrates is there is money available for a Democratic candidate to capture the imagination of Democratic donors,” said TCU political science professor Jim Riddlesperger, who predicts that the Texas contest for governor could become one of the nation’s most high-profile races of 2014. Davis, he said, offers two highly important assets that past Texas Democratic contenders have often found lacking: name identification and money.
“The Davis fundraising numbers are allowing the Davis campaign to put a positive spin on where they are today,” said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones. “It says that at least for the time being she has the resources to run a viable campaign against Greg Abbott. Her campaign isn’t going to be hamstrung by limited resources.” The 50-year-old senator and former Fort Worth City Council member entered the race after waging a nearly 11-hour filibuster against a Republican-led abortion bill, a move that drew thousands of spectators to the state capitol and was streamed to millions of viewers online. The political drama made Davis an overnight political celebrity and fueled calls for her to run for governor. Davis received more national exposure Jan. 15 when she was interviewed on NBC’s Today show as part of correspondent Maria Shriver’s week-long series focusing on personal and financial struggles faced by American women. Davis, recounting the now-familiar story of her struggles as a teenage mother, described herself as a “Texas success story” and “the epitome of hard work and optimism.” The Texas senator’s national profile was reflected in her campaign reports, which listed donors in at least two dozen states. One of her best known contributors was tennis great Martina Navratilova, a former Fort Worth resident who now lives in Miami and gave $1,000. A number of donors who listed themselves as retired gave contributions in the $10 to $50 range. The Davis campaign said contributions of $50 or less totaled $84,704 and constituted 85 percent of the total take. Matt Angle, director of the Democrat-affiliated Lone Star Project and an adviser to the Davis campaign, said 70 percent of Davis’ donations came from Texas. Texans accounted for 97 percent of Abbott’s donations, according to Abbott’s campaign. Davis also had her share of big-money donors in a state that has no limit on the size of political contributions. Topping the list was Dr. Carolyn Oliver of Austin, who gave $1 million.
Fort Worth businessman Bobby Patton, chairman of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was also one of the top contributors, donating a total of $258,000. Patton’s name surfaced on campaign finance reports the same day that news was circulating about a $215 million deal between the Dodgers and their pitching ace, Clayton Kershaw. As described by The New York Times, the agreement will keep the two-time Cy Young winner on the Dodgers for seven years and make Kershaw baseball’s first $200 million pitcher. “It’s kind of a good thing that Wendy got her money out of me before Clayton got the rest of it,” Patton told the Business Press. “She didn’t do as well as Clayton Kershaw did with me today, but she’s doing pretty good.” Patton, one of Davis’ early supporters, was among those who encouraged her to run when she was still weighing her options last summer. “I think Wendy represents people – not just Republicans or Democrats,” Patton said. “That’s why I support her.” Another sizable contribution came from Louise Carvey of Fort Worth, who donated $150,000. Alan Farquharson of Fort Worth, senior vice president of Range Resources, donated $10,000. Former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr donated $250. Nearly 170 donations from Davis’ hometown went into her gubernatorial campaign and an additional 1,819 Fort Worth contributions flowed into her office account. Davis also received campaign help from several groups supporting abortion rights and political advances for women, including Annie’s List, Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Unions representing flight attendants, teachers, locomotive engineers and plumbers also contributed. Angle, the brother of Davis’ longtime consultant J.D. Angle, said Davis’ aggressive fundraising strategy began taking shape after his brother recognized the importance of maximizing the use of social media to further heighten Davis’ expanding profile following her June filibuster. J.D. Angle, who has worked with Davis since her days on the City Council, brought in social media experts to help launch email and online ad campaigns to beam out Davis’ “story” throughout Texas and the rest of America. Davis also made fundraising trips to the West and East Coasts, including Washington, D.C., and was perhaps the first member of a state legislature to address the National Press Club. The candidate has also been “all over the state” raising money, Matt Angle said. Angle said Davis is clearly on pace to raise the $40 million her campaign has identified as the amount needed to wage a successful governor’s race. “She’s certainly meeting that challenge,” he said, adding: “$12 million is a lot of money but it’s not $40 million, and we’ve got to keep raising it.”