State Sen. Wendy Davis’s (D) official entrance into the Texas gubernatorial race on Thursday afternoon pits her against a tough Republican opponent: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Abbott has thus far received less national attention than Davis, who drew headlines with her 11-hour filibuster to temporarily block anti-abortion legislation in June. If Democrats had a shot at capturing the statehouse, analysts proclaimed, Davis would be their best shot. But make no mistake, Abbott is the favored candidate in this race.
Abbott, who merely has to shrug off primary opponent Tom Pauken, has been called the “heir apparent” to Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) since Perry announced he would not run for re-election. He has a sizable war chest of at least $20 million and strong support among the state’s conservatives. It’s expected that Davis will have to raise as much as $40 million to be competitive in the race.
Abbott’s race will likely highlight his opposition to and criticism of Obama. The attorney general and former member of the Texas Supreme Court often touts that he has sued the administration 27 times. Seventeen of those are suits filed against the Environmental Protection Agency. One is against then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner over a portion of the Dodd-Frank bill that mandated the liquidation of big banks.
But perhaps the highest profile case he’s brought forth highlights his outspoken support of the state’s Voter ID laws. He filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department when Texas attempted to pass restrictions. After the Supreme Court gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act, the state quickly passed the new restrictions, no longer having to go through the pre-clearance hurdle.
In September, he said that Obamacare would not have become law without voter fraud that allowed Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to narrowly win his Senate race (Franken won by a slim 312 votes), giving the Senate the votes to pass Obamacare into law.
Notably, Abbott argued cities in Texas should not have to provide wheelchair access under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Abbott himself has been paralyzed since he was 26 after being hit on the back by a fallen oak branch.
But his strong conservative record as attorney general isn’t airtight. Davis was reportedly preparing to hit Abbott over his original opposition to a merger between American Airlines and US Airways when he reversed course. Abbott’s original opposition seemed puzzling since American Airlines is headquartered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But earlier this week, Abbott announced that he was taking Texas out of the multi-state lawsuit against Justice Department over the merger.
Abbott changed his position after American Airlines said it would continue to keep daily service at airports across Texas and maintain its hub and headquarters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Davis consistently supported the merger.
Abbott’s campaign also indicated they plan on focusing on job creation — a more contentious issue than it may seem on its surface because Abbott and Davis fiercely disagree on driving licenses for illegal immigrants. Davis’ support for allowing this group to obtain state driver’s licenses may aid her much-needed support with Hispanic voters.
Davis also recently said Republicans shouldn’t be so satisfied with Texas’s economy. She’s been a heavily promoting to access to health care, education and investment in infrastructure.
But the biggest issue in the gubernatorial race is almost certainly going to be over women’s health care access and the right to an abortion. The day of Davis’s announcement, anti-abortion groups had already begun strongly hammering her on the issue with ad buys. Though Abbott was endorsed by Texas Right to Life in 2010, it’s not entirely clear what kind of abortion restrictions he might support. In an interview Abbott and his wife Cecilia conducted with the Houston Chronicle, Abbott stressed that he opposes abortion. When pressed further by the Texas newspaper, things got a little fuzzy.
“If you’re really pro-life, you want to save every life, but that also includes the mother’s life,” Abbott said.
Asked if that meant Abbott could accept an exception if the mother’s health is at risk he responded, “In a way, but you’re in a way kind of mischaracterizing the word. It’s not like an exception.”
“What both the medical community needs to do, and the pro-life community supports, is doing everything we can to protect the life of the mother,” Abbott continued.
Even with Abbott’s strength and the fact that he’s a Republican running in a deep red state, his victory isn’t assured (although Davis is decidedly the underdog). A small-sample-sized poll released on Wednesday showed Abbott leading Davis by single digits, 29 percent to 21 percent. Meanwhile, 50 percent of voters in the survey said they did not know who they would support in a matchup between Abbott and Davis.
In other words, there’s plenty still up in the air.