Dave Montgomery Austin Correspondent
HALTOM CITY — Thousands of hopeful Democrats gathered here today for Wendy Davis’ expected plunge into the 2014 governor’s race as about two dozen red-clad Republicans turned out to protest her stand on abortion. Ground zero for Davis’ long-anticipated announcement was Wiley G. Thomas Coliseum, where the Democratic state senator received her high school diploma 31 years ago.
Throngs of supporters began gathering hours before Davis’ scheduled remarks around 5 p.m., eager to welcome her into the race as Democrats’ most competitive candidate in years. Democrats haven’t won a statewide office since 1994 and believe Davis has the political muscle and popularity to reverse that trend. Davis, a former Fort Worth city councilwoman who represents Senate District 10 in Tarrant County, surged to overnight stardom after waging a filibuster against a Republican-backed abortion restriction bill that was ultimately signed into law.
She is frequently compared to the late Gov. Ann Richards, who served from 1991 to 1995 and was the last Democrat to hold the office. “She’s going to win if I have to anything to say about it,” said Valery Guignon of Dallas, who said she moved to Texas from California when Richards was governor “because I wanted to be in the state she was in charge of.” Of Davis, Guignon said. “She’s the best going we’ve had in a long time.” She called the Fort Worth Democrat a candidate “with a lot of guts and a lot of courage.” Up to 5,000 Texans RSVP’d to the event to hear Davis officially announce a decision that has seemed inevitable for weeks. Others planned “watch parties’ around the state to their candidate long-distance. Bill Berke, a former Denton County Republican chairman from the Reagan era, was also in line to join the Davis brigades. “I’ll vote for Wendy,” said Berke, an 82-year-old retired construction manager who lives in Haltom City. “I’m not going to vote for the Republican fellow.”
The “other fellow” is Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican front-runner for the nomination to succeed outgoing Gov. Rick Perry. A poll on Wedneday by the Texas Lyceum, a statewide non-partisan leadership group, showed Abbott with an eight point lead, with 50 percent of the respondents still undecided. About 20 local Republicans clad in red lined a sidewalk outside the coliseum to protest Davis’ opposition to the abortion bill that Perry signed into law. Tarrant County Republican chairwoman Jennifer Hall said the local party organized the protest to show that Davis “is out of step with mainstream voters.” “We just want people to know that Tarrant County is conservative,” said Hall. Asked about Davis’ chances, Hall said: “I think she’s going to lose.”