Wendy Davis, the heroine of the pro–Roe v. Wade crowd, looks to be gearing up for a gubernatorial run in Texas, and at least a few of the state’s Republicans are licking their chops.
“I hope she does run,” says Katrina Pierson, who serves on the Texas Tea Party Caucus Advisory Board. “I think it would be great for Texas. I know Abbott would beat her, but then she vacates a senate seat, where we have a great person running to replace her.”
She’s talking about Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and Konni Burton, a tea-party activist challenging Davis for her seat in the state senate. Abbott has a formidable war chest, and the consensus among Austin Republican insiders seems to be that, even if Davis is the Democratic nominee, he has the governorship all but locked up.
Davis held two sold-out fundraisers in D.C. last month, according to McClatchy, and she told an audience at the National Press Club on Monday that she’ll run either for reelection as state senator or for the governorship.
The governorship? Go for it, says Pierson.
“It’s going to take this issue to the statewide stage, and it’s really mobilized a lot of Republicans,” she says of Davis’s pro-choice stance. “People didn’t realize that there were still people out there who wanted to mutilate babies in the womb after 20 weeks, so it’s an issue that really got people’s attention, and it got them animated and motivated, and something like that is going to turn out the Republican base.”
Jordan Berry, a Republican consultant based in Austin, also believes Davis’s statewide prospects don’t look bright. “I think Wendy is a little bit caught up in this cult-hero status that the fringe Left and the liberal media have given her,” he says.
“Hanging out in D.C. with Nancy Pelosi doesn’t get you there,” he adds. “It makes me wonder if she realizes she’s on a suicide mission, and she’s just going to go have fun at the same time, and that’s why she’s up there.”
According to another Texas Republican, Pierson isn’t the only one hoping Davis will get drafted. “I think most Texas Republicans want her to run for governor because she’ll lose,” he says. “I think if you ask Republican activists, consultants, campaign people, they’ll say, ‘Oh yes, she should run for governor so she’ll lose to Abbott and we can be through with this whole thing.’”
He added that though he believes “she’d lose, absolutely,” a gubernatorial defeat wouldn’t mean Davis would disappear from the national spotlight.
The Republican consultants and activists I’ve spoken with generally concur that if she abandons her gubernatorial hopes and stick with the state senate, it will be a competitive race; she won her last election, in 2012, with 51 percent of the vote, and her Republican competitor “ran just an abysmal campaign,” according to one Republican insider. While it would be difficult now — given Davis’s new national fundraising base — for a Republican challenger to claim the seat, it wouldn’t be impossible.
So Davis might or might not win if she sticks with the state senate, and she’ll almost certainly lose if she goes for the governorship. But some say she’s still more likely to run for the higher office. That’s because a gubernatorial campaign would attract more national attention than a state-senate race, and that could buoy Davis’s long-term prospects. Even if she lost, she’d still be a star — and a perhaps a bigger star than if she had stayed in the legislature.
Of course, that’s not to say that taking Davis’s senate seat wouldn’t be a boon for Republicans. They have a majority now, but not quite a two-thirds majority. If Davis’s seat turns red, they’d need only one Democrat to vote with them on controversial conservative initiatives aimed at tightening restrictions on abortion and loosening restrictions on guns.
Both of Davis’s options have distinct advantages and disadvantages for her — as well as for the Texas GOP. Expect things to stay interesting.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.