Davis poised to enter Texas' toughest arena for Democrats


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

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Posted on September 26, 2013 at 6:48 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 27 at 12:59 PM

AUSTIN -- Ever since the filibuster that launched her to fame, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) has been begged by Texas Democrats to run for governor, and attempt to break a 20-year losing streak in statewide office. 
When she announces her intentions next Thursday, Davis will take the spotlight again. Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford, who managed former Congressman Chris Bell's 2006 gubernatorial campaign, says running for governor is unlike any other political campaign in Texas.
"When you're running for Texas governor you're representing people's emotional attachment to Texas," said Stanford. "That's why Kinky Friedman was at one time viable. You wouldn't vote for him for comptroller. You would never in a million years assume that he could be a good attorney general, even if he were a lawyer. But he kind of looks like the vision that some people have for Texas."
The same held true for Gov. Ann Richards (D-TX) and still holds true for Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), says Stanford. "It's not just about checking boxes on a policy scorecard," he explained. "You need to talk about Texas in a more emotional way."
The weeks before a major campaign announcement are a frenzy of activity behind the scenes. Stanford says campaigns spend their last days reaching out to donors, adding to their e-mail lists and coordinating the online component of the campaign rollout. With internet presence increasingly critical, campaigns want to be sure that online ads become instantly ubiquitous as soon as the announcement has been made.
Campaigns also spend an enormous amount of time planning the launch event itself, and the first speech by the candidate for office is the centerpiece. For many Texans whose only knowledge of Davis comes from images of the senator shod in pink sneakers, Stanford suggests her announcement will be the first time many have actually heard her talk. 
"It's her first impression in this context," said Stanford. "Granted the abortion issue catapulted her to national fame, but she has got to  translate that in a way to what that has to do with the future of Texas." 
Anyone running for statewide office will have to work the map. In 2012, Democratic President Barack Obama won urban areas around Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, El Paso and parts the Valley. The rest of the state went to Republican challenger Mitt Romney. For Democrats, the strategy in 2014 relies in large part on voter turnout.
"In a presidential year, different people show up," said Stanford, who cautions against using the 2012 election as a guidepost. "We're talking about a smaller electorate, so in some ways it's cheaper. The harder part is that fewer of our people show up."
While independent organizations such as Battleground Texas are working to register and mobilize voters, the matchup itself could generate additional interest. If she runs for governor, Davis most likely would face Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-TX), a popular and well-funded politician with the backing of most of the state's conservative establishment.
"Texas is the lowest voting state in America," said Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas. "You could call this a 'red state,' but you could also more importantly, more accurately call it a non-voting state, because people feel like they haven't had a good debate and good choices to make in the fall." 
"With somebody like Wendy Davis on the ticket, you have an energetic candidate who is intelligent and competitive," said Espinoza. "It's going to give people a good debate, and I think it's going to be good for all of Texas."
Davis' announcement is set for October 3, but no details have been released so far as to where. Either way, it's likely to be followed by a number of additional announcements from Democrats seeking statewide offices further down the ticket.
"I think what you're going to see is a lot of credible candidates running down ballot in a way that we haven't had in a long time," said Stanford. "There was a time when Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison were real longshots down ballot. If we pull that off, we're on our way back."