Texas’ Wendy Davis weighs sudden star power, a run for governor

Maria Recio

Texas Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, who became a national phenomenon in June after her 11-hour filibuster to block a restrictive abortion law, told an enthusiastic crowd Monday at the National Press Club that she’s close to making a decision about running for governor.

Davis, who represents Fort Worth, ruled out any other statewide office in 2014, saying that “I will run for one of two offices, either my state Senate seat or the governor.”

The governor’s race has captured the imagination of the political cognoscenti, with Davis’ sudden star power giving Democrats their first shot at winning statewide office in red state Texas since 1994.

“I’m thinking very carefully about it,” she said after her luncheon speech.

Asked when she would decide, Davis said, “Hopefully, in just the next couple of weeks.”

Longtime Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry announced last month that he won’t run for re-election, creating an open seat for the office for the first time in 14 years. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Perry protege, already is running on the Republican side.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, one of many well-known Texas Democrats at the luncheon, said he thought Davis could win.

“If she runs, this will be the marquee race in 2014,” he said. “I’ve told her she ought to run.”

Davis became a household name nationally after she donned her now-famous “rouge red” Mizuno running shoes instead of her usual high heels and stood – she wasn’t allowed to lean on her desk – in the Texas Senate chamber without water or bathroom breaks, speaking nonstop about the experiences of women who were denied access to health care. She became a social media sensation with live stream, Internet and Twitter followers.

As the clock ticked toward midnight that night, Davis had a short-lived victory with her filibuster when hundreds of supporters in the public gallery drowned out Republicans on the floor and time ran out on the session.

But Perry called another special Senate session and the bill passed. It imposes tough requirements on abortion providers that Davis says will force most of them to close.

Matt Angle, a Democratic activist who’s the director of the Lone Star Project, an anti-Republican political research group, said it would take $30 million to $40 million to run for governor but that supporters had been lining up since Davis’ filibuster.

One of those big donors is Bobby Patton, a Fort Worth businessman who’s in a partnership group that recently bought the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

“If she can win state senator in Fort Worth, she can win any state race,” said Patton, a guest of Davis’ at the luncheon

Davis is having a heady moment in the spotlight. She’s been interviewed on national network news programs, she held two sold-out fundraisers in Washington in July and she’ll speak at a San Francisco fundraiser Aug. 16 for Emily’s List, a political action committee that supports abortion rights.

At the press club Monday, she talked about her up-from-bootstraps life as a single mother at 19 looking for a way to provide health care and food for her daughter.

“I was always on the brink of a financial disaster. A flat tire meant having to choose a belonging to hock at a pawnshop,” she said.

A stint in community college, then degrees from Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School changed her life and led her to public service, first on the Fort Worth City Council and then in a hard-fought battle for a Texas Senate seat.

Her possible entry into the governor’s race has excited Democrats.

“It is so huge, not just for her, but for Democrats in the state of Texas,” Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks said. “She has lit a fire that cannot be extinguished.”

Political observers are more cautious. “Texas is still a pretty hard-core Republican state,” said analyst Bill Schneider, a distinguished senior fellow at Third Way, a moderate political research center.

Her hero status to women’s groups will help her raise money, he said, but “I don’t know if that’s enough to get her elected governor of Texas.”

By Maria Recio
McClatchy Washington Bureau