We were beginning to wonder if Wendy Davis was really running for governor or if her candidacy was just a myth, an illusion conjured up by desperate Texas Democrats wishing for a shooting star to guide them out of the political black hole that has been their home for so long.
After she suddenly and unexpectedly exploded into the state and national consciousness a year ago with her media-hyped filibuster against a bill restricting abortions, the Democratic state senator from Fort Worth rode the publicity gravy train to her party’s gubernatorial nomination but then seemed to disappear. She’d grab a headline now and then with an East Coast magazine interview or a West Coast fundraising excursion but gave no evidence that she was actively campaigning for a four-year residency at the governor’s mansion in Austin.
Not being privy to her plans or political plottings, some observers figured an accomplished self-promoter such as Davis must surely be huddled in a campaign war room somewhere constructing a massive juggernaut that would catch Republican opponent Greg Abbott asleep at the switch and give her a stunning burst of momentum heading into the fall.
Then she dumped her campaign manager, a nationally known operative with big-time credentials. Replaced her with State Rep. Chris Turner, known primarily as campaign manager for ex-Waco Congressman Chet Edwards.
Juggernaut? How about a sputtering bandwagon with three flat tires?
It was encouraging then, at least to Texans hoping for a spirited contest in the governor’s race, to see Davis emerge from her self-imposed low profile with a pair of recent speeches suggesting that she is, indeed, running for governor. The first, on June 25, marked the one-year anniversary of her celebrated filibuster. The second, on June 27 at the Democrats’ state convention in Dallas, sounded a lot like someone who’s finally getting serious about running for governor. She raked Abbott over the coals, ripped what she called the Republicans’ “good-old-boy” approach to leadership and hammered home the theme that she clearly hopes to ride to victory, her dedication to the needs of “hardworking” Texans.
We eagerly await details that will transform Davis’ slogans into substantive, forward-looking proposals that voters can contrast with the policies followed by retiring Gov. Rick Perry and those offered by Abbott as he attempts to succeed the state’s longest-serving chief executive.
Davis, either out of an exaggerated sense of optimism or an excess of defensiveness, dismissed as “absurd” suggestions that her hopes of winning the election lie somewhere between slim and none – and in fact have diminished following the filibuster-fueled surge of media attention and partisan enthusiasm that propelled her to the nomination.
As it happens, we’re still marveling at the seeming absurdity of her out-of-nowhere emergence as Texas Democrats’ best hope for capturing the state’s top elective office since the colorful and charismatic Ann Richards knocked off a hopelessly clueless Republican opponent named Clayton Williams in 1990.
Key to that election, by the way, was the rejection of Williams by Republican women, who voted for Richards in sufficient numbers to assure her victory – a phenomenon that did not recur when Richards ran unsuccessfully for re-election against George W. Bush. We’re hard-pressed to envision Republican women voting for Wendy Davis in 2014, but Davis and Abbott will be facing an electorate that could be significantly different in terms of demographics than the one encountered by Richards and Bush in 1994.
Is it in fact absurd to imagine that Davis could mine enough support from young voters, Hispanics, pro-choice conservatives and maybe a few constituent groups the pollsters have overlooked to pull off an upset? Absurd might be a bit hyperbolic. But Davis is definitely a long shot – and, to all appearances, her odds are getting longer by the day.