Posted on September 23, 2013 at 5:21 PM
Monday, Sep 23 at 5:40 PM
AUSTIN -- She's become the face of Texas Democrats. State Sen. Wendy Davis' (D-Forth Worth) filibuster against controversial anti-abortion laws drew thousands to the Texas Capitol in June.
After a final vote on the legislation was drowned by the roar of abortion rights advocates in the Senate gallery, Davis emerged to a seething sea of supporters gathered in the building's rotunda.
"I think finally Texans, particularly women and a lot of young people, finally said, 'Enough of this.' And they saw in Wendy the kind of hero they can identify with," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in an interview with KVUE Monday morning.
"They were there to stand with Wendy because they knew that she was there fighting for them," said Hinojosa. "And I think that has just kind of been a major shot in the arm for the Democratic party all across the state of Texas."
Although the legislation was ultimately passed in a second special session called immediately following the filibuster, Hinojosa says the event sparked a renaissance within a party that has lain dormant for the last twenty years. The influx of funds has allowed the party to grow from a modest staff of just four full-time employees to twenty.
"It has been very difficult for us, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: The Democratic party can't succeed and therefore the Democratic party doesn't succeed," said Hinojosa. "We had not had that kind of energy supporting a cause, a person, that is a Democrat in my lifetime. I've been involved in Democratic party politics since 1982. That's 31 years up to now, and I haven't seen anything like that, not anything even close to that."
After months of speculation, Davis is expected to announce October 3 whether she plans to run for governor. Hinojosa says he's been in touch regularly with Davis, but declined to offer any details on which direction she may be leaning.
"I'm not at liberty to talk about what we've talked about. I can just tell You that her campaign has been looking at this issue very carefully," Hinojosa answered. "The indication I get is that everything is looking very positive, but that she won't announce her decision until October 3."
If Davis does decide to run for governor, her main rival would be Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-TX), a powerful and popular figure within the Texas GOP who has raised more than $20 million for his campaign. Asked for a speculative figure Davis would need to raise and spend in order to wage an effective campaign, Hinojosa suggested a ballpark estimate of around $40 million.
Based on Davis' reception in recent events around the country, Hinojosa says Democrats nationwide will be paying particular attention to Texas in the event Davis enters the race. If Texas were to elect a Democrat in a statewide race, it would suggest Texas and its 38 electoral votes were no longer a guarantee for Republicans. The impact on future presidential elections would be difficult to overstate.
Many Republicans caution Davis' stand on abortion rights could produce negative results and an easy campaign issue for her opponent in the socially conservative state, but Hinojosa argues Democrats' positions on issues such as women's health, health care and Medicaid expansion make them the real "party of life."
"We really are the party that is the right to life party, not the Republicans," argued Hinojosa. "They care only about something that is going on in the womb but they don't care anything after that. And as a result of that, I promise you that as a result of Rick Perry's decision to deny the $100 billion of expanded Medicaid coverage, hundreds of thousands of people in the state of Texas will die."
But how could a Democrat realistically win in a state that voted for Mitt Romney by 16 percentage points in 2012? Hinojosa balks at the notion that the demographic math favors Republicans.
"Actually the math is really favoring Democrats," countered Hinojosa. "Our problem is that our folks haven't been going out to vote. If you take all the natural base of the Democratic party, whether it's Hispanics which make up 40 percent of the population, African Americans and Asians which is another 15 percent. We're the only majority minority party in the United States that is not a Democratic state."
A big part of the problem, says Hinojosa, is mobilizing Hispanic voters who are eligible to vote but not registered. "It's an underperforming population," explained Hinojosa, and one that the party will be particularly involved in pushing to the polls. One group working towards the same objective is Battleground Texas, which Hinojosa expects will play a significant role in 2014.
"The efforts that Battleground Texas are going to engage in, along with the Texas Democratic Party and the other allied groups, will increase voter registration significantly," said Hinojosa. "If Wendy runs for governor, she's going to need that. She's going to need an increase in voter registration, a significant bump, and groups like Battleground that are focusing solely on that issue will make a big difference."
Back in August, KVUE spoke with Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri for what Republicans are focusing on following the 83rd Texas Legislature and heading into campaign season.
For KVUE's interview with the Texas GOP, CLICK HERE.