Welp, it’s official. As of 5:20 p.m. Texas time on October 3, Wendy Davis, the state senator who became a national pro-choice icon for filibustering legislation that restricted abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, has thrown her hat into the gubernatorial ring. Not much of a surprise; Democrats started telling reporters a week ago, and her campaign website went live for a few minutes on Thursday afternoon, giving intrepid Twitterers just enough time to take a screenshot of her promise to “continue to fight for all Texans as governor.” Also on view was her Wendy Davis Store, which will apparently hawk $15 yard signs.
Davis announced her intentions to enter the governor’s race to a crowd in Haltom City, on the stage where she received her high-school diploma. “All of you deserve to have your voices heard, because our future is brightest when it’s lit by everyone’s star,” she told the boisterous group in a speech that made no mention of abortion or women’s health.
Here’s what most observers, as far as I can tell, think Wendy Davis’s future looks like: She cruises to a win in the Democratic primary; she does a bunch of cable-news hits and draws record levels of national attention, even for Texas; and she loses squarely to Attorney General Greg Abbott. There’s a case to be made (and CNN’s Peter Hamby has made it) that Davis’s supporters have reason to hope for a photo-finish win. But even the sunniest of Pollyannas couldn’t be too optimistic about Davis’s prospects; Texas is a red state, and Texans (as a general rule) don’t think much of late-term abortion, and also Greg Abbott (as of a few months ago, per CNN) has a war chest that’s about 20 times the size of Davis’s.
Opinion in Texas Republican circles about Davis’s gubernatorial bid divides into basically two camps. The first relishes it (as I described here). Their argument is that Davis’s bid will ignite the conservative grass roots in the state, that she’ll lose handily, and that Republicans will gain a state-senate seat to boot. Davis will quickly learn all about the quality and quantity of pro-life Texans, and she’ll be toast.
Back in August, conservative activist Katrina Pierson (who is mounting a primary challenge against Representative Pete Sessions) told me she hoped that Davis would run for the governorship. “I hope she does run,” Pierson said. “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.”
Tom Giovanetti of the Dallas-based Institute for Policy Innovation is sympathetic with this perspective. “The Republicans want to see her squashed like a bug,” he says. “And so it is conceivable that this dynamic of Democrats turning out in bigger numbers could be offset by Republicans turning out in even greater numbers. It’s kind of a fool’s errand to run a statewide race in Texas on late-term abortion.”
This said, Texas Republicans aren’t breaking out the confetti quite yet. Some fear that Davis might just be able to pull off a victory of sorts for Texas and national Democrats.
Giovanetti, for one, doesn’t share Pierson’s optimism. Like others in the second camp of opinion on Davis, Giovanetti predicts that the Democratic darling will lose — but Republicans might get bloodied in the battle as well. Beating Davis won’t be enough; Abbott will have to beat her handily. If Davis loses by anything less than 10 percent, Democrats will be able to spin it as a victory of sorts, Giovanetti says — and they’ll be right.
Every point Davis trims from the typical Republican margin of victory, he continues, is worth millions of dollars in national fundraising money for Texas Democrats. If she proves that out-of-state investment in the Texas Democratic party pays off, it will be a problem for the state GOP.
“If it gets to a margin of 8 percentage points, then Republicans have a great deal to be nervous about,” says one insider about Abbott’s potential margin of victory.
So Texas Republicans aren’t stressed, but neither are they lackadaisical. Thick-walleted Democratic donors nationwide will keep a close eye on the numbers, and Texas Republicans will, too — especially given a recent poll showing Abbott’s lead is 8 points.
“Until our state is a lot less lone and a lot more star, we will keep going,” Davis said in her announcement speech. Texas Republicans will keep right on going, too.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.