Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, who electrified her state and the nation with last week's 11-hour filibuster to block a sweeping assault on reproductive rights, and who promises to keep up the fight this week as the legislature is called into special session, is suddenly the most interesting prospective gubernatorial candidate in the nation.
When she appeared last week on the MSNBC show All In with Chris Hayes, the Democratic legislator was asked if she might run in 2014 against Republican Governor Rick Perry. Her reply? "You know, I would be lying if I told you that I hadn't had aspirations to run for a statewide office."
A close political ally went even further, acknowledging that the veteran local official and legislator is "looking very closely" at the 2014 race. "Certainly, the events over the last week or so show a groundswell in Texas," says Davis associate Matt Angle, who directs the Democratic political firm Lone Star Project. "We have to see if it all adds up to a statewide campaign."
As a matter of fact, it does add up.
The woman who so shook Perry that he started taking personal shots at her has the necessary name recognition, thousands of enthusiastic supporters and the potential to raise significant campaign cash from small donors across Texas and nationwide.
Davis has also got a brash, no-apologies-for-being-right approach that has historically played well in the Lone Star State. Long before she was filibustering for reproductive rights, Davis was filibustering for education funding. And her heavy lifting as a progressive legislator has won her a slew of awards like the one from the Texas Office of Public Citizen, which named her the state's "Outstanding Public Servant."
If Davis were to run, she would not be the first brave, bold woman to seek the governorship of Texas.
Texas Governor Ann Richards, the last Democrat to win the state's top job, was the star of the 1988 Democratic National Convention -- where she famously made a case for equal rights that included the line: "After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."
Before Richards, there was the remarkable Frances "Sissy" Farenthold, who was the only woman in the Texas House of Representatives at the same time that Barbara Jordan was the only women in the Texas Senate. Farenthold made a pair of remarkable bids for the Democratic nomination for governor in the early 1970s. She was such an inspiring figure that her surprise nomination for vice president at the 1972 Democratic National Convention drew more than 400 votes.
And, of course, Miriam Amanda Wallace "Ma" Ferguson was elected to one term as governor of Texas in the 1920s, and to another in the 1930s.
Texas actually has a better track record of seriously considering and frequently electing women governors, senators and statewide office holders than many American states.
Yet the Texas Democratic Party has not always shined in its selection of contenders for the gubernatorial post it last won in 1990. Placing Davis at the top of its 2014 ticket could well reap benefits for the party. That's not to say that Davis would have an easy time of it. Mounting a challenge to Perry, the failed 2012 Republican presidential candidate who makes no secret of his interest in the 2016 race, would be an uphill run in a state that gave Republican Mitt Romney 57 percent of the vote in 2012.
But smart politics is not merely about crunching numbers from past contests. Smart politics takes into account personal and situational intangibles, with an eye toward mounting a campaign that takes the great leap forward.
The intangible for Wendy Davis is that she has already proven herself to a substantial number of Texas voters, especially but certainly not exclusively women.
Davis has never lost an election, winning three terms on the Fort Worth City Council before she beat a Republican incumbent to win a state Senate seat in 2008 and retained that seat in 2012. Davis is not a milquetoast mandarin. She's a quick-witted political natural who clearly knows the issues and who is ready to wage fights -- including filibusters -- on behalf of a socially and economically progressive agenda.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that Davis could build a statewide movement that would include women, African-Americans, Asians and Latinos -- as well as trade unionists -- in a coalition that could speed up the process of transformation that most political analysts say will change Texas voting patterns sometime in the reasonably near future.
1 | 2