AUSTIN -- In state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), Texas Democrats finally have a champion. Yet Davis' entry into the governor's race has also given Republicans a new foil.
Anti-abortion rights groups focused on the filibuster against controversial abortion legislation that catapulted her to the national spotlight in June. An email from Texas Alliance for Life Thursday evening concluded, "Texas will not support Wendy Davis and her harsh, anti-life stance."
The same day, emails from Republicans doubled down on the abortion issue. Many sought to tie Davis to President Barack Obama, as well as portray her as more California than Texas. "Pro-abortion Wendy Davis is the Democrats’ latest great hope," read a statement from Texas Agriculture Commission and lieutenant governor candidate Todd Staples.
"Texas Republican voters need to take a close look at who will likely be the best candidate to contrast Ms. Davis’ San Francisco-style Democratic views with the principled conservative positions that win elections," read the email from Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Pauken.
Davis' most potent foe in the governor's race, Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, released a statement saying, "Once again, Texas Democrats are attempting to conjure support for California-style candidates that try to sell Obama’s liberal agenda and go against what makes Texas great."
"Much of what we're going to see in the campaign is a struggle of each to frame the other," said Texas Politics Project Director and University of Texas Professor James R. Henson, who suggests the group attack shows the relative strength of the state's well-coordinated majority party against the effort by Democrats to reassert themselves at the state level.
"You had all of these Republican candidates seemingly at once piling on Wendy Davis, and that's something that Wendy Davis actually doesn't have in return at this moment," said Henson. "If the Democrats had a kind of parallel infrastructure that we saw leap all over Wendy Davis yesterday, they'd be leaping on Greg Abbott already, and we're not seeing that, and it's a real disadvantage to Davis."
For her part, Davis has confined her attacks to the current administration, while at the same time distancing herself from Washington.
"Texans do not want to sit back and watch Austin turned into Washington, D.C.," Davis told supporters Thursday. "But state leaders that are currently in power are forcing people to opposite corners to prepare for a fight instead of coming together to get things done."
Davis hopes to mobilize a grassroots effort in order to take on a better funded and better organized opposition, and judging by the enthusiastic supporters who arrived from hours away for her campaign announcement Thursday in her home town, the Fort Worth suburb of Haltom City, she is on her way to building a loyal and dedicated core of supporters.
"She's just a great gal. I'm so passionate for her," said Marisela Shibley of El Paso. "I'm just ready to walk streets door to door."
But could it be that easy?
"The grassroots movement can overcome that in the longer term, and possibly if they show up on Election Day in unprecedented numbers, could help carry the day," said Henson. In the meantime, he says Davis will have her work cut out for her.