Filibuster legend Wendy Davis will run for governor of Texas, she announced today. Can she beat the odds in a red state? Caroline Linton reports.
It’s official: Wendy Davis is running for Texas governor.
The state senator from Fort Worth, who shot to national attention in June with a nearly 11-hour filibuster over a restrictive abortion bill, announced her candidacy Thursday amid a cheering crowd in the same auditorium where she graduated from high school.
“This is not a campaign for the governor of our state, but for the future of our state,” Davis said. “Until we can make our state even greater, we will keep going.”
Despite the national attention, Davis comes into the race as the underdog. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state, and Davis’s presumptive opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, has held statewide office since 2005 and has a more than $20 million war chest. But even before announcing her candidacy, Davis trailed Abbott by only 8 points, according to a Texas Lyceum poll released Wednesday. He led her 29 percent to 21 percent, with the rest of those polled undecided.
“She’s just starting off, she’s a state senator representing a small Senate district in Fort Worth—so starting off, this [poll] is great news,” said Glenn Smith, the director of Texas PAC and the campaign manager of Democrat Ann Richards’s 1990 successful bid for governor. “I’m really optimistic about her—she’s got what it takes.”
Whether Davis wants it or not, women’s health—and abortion in particular—will likely be the key issue in the race. Davis’s entrance onto the national stage was the June filibuster, in which she temporarily blocked a restrictive abortion bill. (Perry later called a special legislative session, and the bill passed and was signed into law.)
The law will likely cause many of the state’s women’s health centers to close, especially in poor rural areas, since it is difficult to find hospitals that will give admitting privileges to doctors with whom they are not affiliated. Women’s health-care funding was already slashed in 2011.
Last week, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit in federal court against that law, taking issue with two particular provisions. One provision insists that any doctor providing an abortion must have admitting privileges at the local hospital, while the other requires the supervision of a doctor for women who have medical abortions. The lawsuit is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Illustrating how key this bill could be to the election is that the lawsuit is officially filed as Planned Parenthood v. Abbott—as in Davis’s opponent. Abbott could appear in court personally on October 21.
And the state’s anti-abortion lobby has already taken up against Davis: a group called the Texas Right to Life will air its first ad against Davis on Thursday, according to Politico. “Wendy Davis put late-term abortion ahead of our faith, our families, and our Texas values,” the ad says. The ad will air in English and Spanish in south Texas—targeting the area’s Hispanic population, who are more likely to be Catholic and pro-life.
Davis’s filibustering against abortion is not her first foray on the issue. In 2012 she rode the “Women’s Health Express” bus protesting a law that cut Medicaid funding to abortion providers. She also authored a bill in 2011 that required law-enforcement agencies to account for a backlog of untested rape kits.
Women’s health has certainly been front and center on Texans’ minds: during a Texas Tribune conference, Texas first lady Anita Perry said that abortion “could be a woman’s right, like it’s a man’s right if he wants to have some kind of procedure.” Anita Perry said she disagreed with her husband, who had run for president on a strict pro-life platform. But within days, Rick Perry said his wife misspoke, insisting, “Sometimes we stick the wrong word in the wrong place, and you pounce on it.”
In her press conference, Davis touted her 2011 filibuster against a conservative plan that would have cut nearly $4 billion in public-education funding. She also touted her life story: she became a single mother at age 19 and worked her way through college and law school. “Thirty-two years ago, when I walked across this stage, I couldn’t see what the future was,” Davis told the cheering crowd. “I can see the future now: it’s you, it’s all of you.”
Davis distanced herself from Washington, giving specific attention to her history as a Texan. “If you want a governor who will speak for everyone, every Texan needs to be a part of that governor to get elected.”