PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Without Gov. Rick Perry on the ballot for the first time since 2000, Texas politics is poised to undergo a major shake-up, starting at the top of the ticket in the governor’s race, where voters were choosing between their Republican attorney general who has stridently defended tough conservative laws and a Democratic star who has strongly supported abortion rights.
Greg Abbott was doing little to mute predictions that the only question in Tuesday’s election was: By how much will he defeat Wendy Davis?
Three possible 2016 GOP presidential candidates — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Perry — were already set to toast Abbott at an Austin victory party on Tuesday night. If expectations from pundits and opinion polls hold, the celebration figures to be a swaggering, told-you-so mocking of Democrats who put unprecedented resources into retaking Texas.
Up and down the ballot, Republicans were heavily favored to sweep unheralded Democratic challengers and extend a 20-year streak of GOP victories in statewide races. The election is taking place under a strict Texas voter ID law that Abbott successfully kept intact at the U.S. Supreme Court, and that Democrats say will prevent roughly 650,000 people from casting a ballot.
Right up to Election Day, Davis reminded critics she’s been counted out before — both personally and politically. She repeatedly retraced her climb from single motherhood in a trailer park to Harvard Law School, a made-for-TV story that helped land her a book deal and national speaking tour, and two comeback victories for her state Senate seat.
But beating Abbott would rank among the biggest political upsets in the U.S.
Her campaign raised a record $36 million for a Texas Democrat and was engineered by architects of President Barack Obama’s re-election. But public opinion polls have consistently shown her trailing in double-digits. Even as far back as April, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association didn’t include Texas while ticking off a list of winnable races.
Davis — who became a national sensation in summer 2013 — with a nearly 13-hour filibuster in the state Senate that temporarily blocked new abortion restrictions — vowed to upend decades of Republican politics and expand Medicaid, boost school funding and fight to raise the minimum wage.
From the start, Abbott made it clear he didn’t want to just beat Davis; he wanted to trounce her.
He campaigned on preserving a Republican status quo of economic growth and defiance toward Washington that Perry made his legacy during a record 14 years as governor. When Perry announced last year that he wouldn’t seek a fourth full term — while not ruling out another White House run — no other Republican dared challenge Abbott’s popularity or a $20 million head start in fundraising.
Abbott, who lost the use of both his legs in 1984 after a tree crashed on him while jogging, would become the nation’s first elected governor in a wheelchair since 1982, when George Wallace won his final term in Alabama.