What Wendy Davis Needs To Do To Win

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, speaks as she begins a filibuster in an effort to kill an abortion bill, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, in Austin, Texas.
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In less than a week, Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis (D) is expected to formally jump into the Texas gubernatorial race.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported two individuals close to Davis confirmed that she would be running. Though her campaign has been mum on the subject, she’s widely expected to announce on Oct. 3 that she’s running for governor.

Davis, a rising star in the Democratic Party, has been eying the governor’s race since her filibuster of a Republican-backed abortion bill in the state legislature. That filibuster helped raise her profile and now Democrats see her as a possible vanguard for turning the Lone Star state blue. But Davis’s path to the Texas governor’s mansion is a steep one. Here are five things Davis will need to do to actually clinch that governorship in Texas.


If Davis is going to be governor of Texas she’ll likely have to beat Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), who at last count had a campaign war chest of roughly $25 million. According to the Dallas Morning News, Davis will need roughly $40 million to be competitive in the race, which is something she seems to know. Davis has spent the last few months on a fundraising spree, both in and out of her state. Observers were impressed that in the last few weeks of June she was able to raise almost $1 million, shortly after her filibuster. But even with Davis’ aggressively fundraising and the support of prominent national groups like EMILY’s List, will she be able to raise enough money to compete with Abbott?

Turn Out The Vote

Getting supporters to come out and vote in 2014 is a top priority for Davis. And, as Nate Cohn at The New Republic notes, it’s also a heavy lift given that the election will take place in a midterm year, when traditionally Democratic voter blocs like young and non-white voters generally stay home.

“Registration, motivation, communication,” Democratic strategist Paul Begala told TPM. “Texas is not so much a red state as it is a non-voting state.  Wendy needs to do what Barack Obama did in 2008 in Virginia and North Carolina and Indiana: alter the composition of the electorate by identifying, inspiring and enrolling previously under-represented constituencies.”

“A Democratic win in 2014 would require an unprecedented level of enthusiasm and mobilization on the part of Latino voters, as well as a strong margin among moderates,” said Southern Methodist University Professor Matthew Wilson, who specializes in politics and religious voting behavior.

Wilson is skeptical. He added that “an Anglo woman who rose to prominence through her ardent defense of late-term abortion is not the kind of candidate likely to produce that,” Wilson said.

Get Lucky

Abbott needs to mess up. Plainly put, Davis needs Abbott to make political mistakes, Rice University Professor Mark Jones told TPM. “Her only hope really is some type of black swan event where Greg Abbott can commit to a series of egregious, unforced errors that would delegitimize her candidacy to such an extent that she would move into striking distance. But everything I know about Attorney General Abbott is that that’s not going to happen.”

Given some political missteps by Republicans in high-profile elections the last time around, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

The key for Abbott will be to avoid getting drawn into discussions of minefield “‘women’s issues’ like rape, contraception, etc.,” Wilson said. “Short of a serious Abbot gaffe (to which he does not seem especially predisposed), it is hard to imagine Davis’s path to victory.”

“He just needs to affirm his pro-life convictions in general terms, with emphasis on his support for the bill that Davis filibustered (one that was supported by a strong majority of Texans, including Texas women),” Wilson continued.

Distance Herself From Obama

If the last election is any indicator, Obama isn’t as popular in Texas as he is elsewhere. The president lost Texas by 16 points. Any close association to Obama would likely repel some voters who might otherwise consider backing Davis. Davis will have to make sure to establish herself as a Democrat who’s not in lock-step with the president.

“One strategy that we’ve seen a host of Texas Republicans following is linking their Texas opponent to President Obama,” Jones said.

This means likeminded national Democrats who want to help Davis may help her the most by staying away from her campaign stops.

Move To The Center

Even though certain parts of Texas — particularly urban areas like Austin — are fairly liberal, the state is still deep red on a number of issues. Davis’s political record makes her one of the most liberal Texas Democrats in the state.

“She definitely doesn’t have the profile of someone who’s broken with the party consistently,” Jones said. “Moving on social issues or on economic issues who has a past profile of moving toward the center, breaking with the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Unlike someone like, say, [Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)], for instance, she doesn’t have that past record.”

In fact, on of the other issues that Davis could pay politically for is a ban on the gun show loophole that she supported. Republicans will be quick to paint her as anti-gun in an NRA-loving state.

Moving to the center is crucial for Davis to win, Jones said. Because Davis is running for governor, she has to appeal to a broad range of districts and constituencies, some of which are quite conservative. Davis has to both highlight her abortion bill filibuster but also not be labeled as a cookie-cutter liberal in the process. It’s a difficult road to navigate.

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