Weighing Governor’s Bid, Wendy Davis Feels the August Heat

Conservative barbs, political maneuvering and the daunting prospect of running as a Democrat in Texas are enough to make anyone sweat in their pink Mizunos

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Win McNamee / Getty Images

Wendy Davis speaking at the National Press Club on August 5, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Politics is not a summer pastime in Texas. In the dog days of August, the politically obsessed, from staffers to lobbyists, typically flee triple-digit temperatures to cooler climes. Monday’s news that the legislature was finally adjourning was met with relief. And while Wendy Davis, the pink-sneakered abortion-bill-filibustering state senator, enjoyed a star turn at the National Press Club in Washington earlier this week, some of the folks back home grumbled.

This summer, thanks, some say, to the woman many now simply call Wendy, Texas’ part-time citizen legislators have been hanging around in the Austin heat for three special sessions. Her 11-hour filibuster of a restrictive abortion bill on June 25 propelled Davis into the political stratosphere. But it also created a roadblock for a much needed transportation-infrastructure bill, the sort of nuts-and-bolts issue voters expect their legislators to deal with.

(MORE: Wendy Davis, a Liberal Texas Star, Prepares Another Campaign in D.C.)

Davis’ critics blame her for the delay — even though the mostly conservative legislature spent more than 30 days haggling over just how much to spend on transportation. While Davis basked in the national spotlight this week, some Texas Republicans, including state representative Giovanni Capriglione of Fort Worth, called on her to pony up the approximately $2 million in costs for the second and third special sessions. “One state senator, in an effort to capture national attention, forced this special session,” Capriglione told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I am sure she has raised enough money at her Washington, D.C., fundraiser to cover the cost.”

Such is the price of political fame. Davis’ rapid rise has made her a lightning rod in Texas and beyond. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson, who has taken heat in the past for what his critics call chauvinist remarks, called Davis “Abortion Barbie” following her Washington appearance. (Erickson later said “Abortion Barbie” was a play on the “Caribou Barbie” label bestowed on former Alaska governor Sarah Palin by the acerbic New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.) The comment didn’t make much of a ripple in drought-ridden Texas, but it was picked up on some conservative and Tea Party blogs. “I hope that moniker haunts her on the campaign trail,” Erickson wrote.

Whether the name sticks or not, there is little doubt abortion will be a defining issue of her next campaign. (She has said she will decide by Labor Day if she’ll seek the governor’s mansion or merely run for re-election to the state senate.) Polls show Davis is at odds with a majority of voters who support the new 20-week cutoff for abortions. In the past, Davis has run on broad platforms of less volatile issues; job creation, education, easing family budgets, veterans’ issues and truth in budgeting were her go-to topics in her last race. But now it’s the abortion issue that she’s known for.

(MORE: Filibustering Days Over, Wendy Davis Faces a Big Decision)

Her likeliest rival for governor will try to exploit that fact. “She is still relatively unknown in the rest of the state, and the lead consultant for likely Republican candidate Greg Abbott is a specialist in rebranding politicians,” says Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report, an Austin insiders’ political newsletter. Abbott’s consultant, Kronberg points out, “successfully rebranded one of Texas’ most popular figures, Kay Bailey Hutchison, as ‘Kay Bailout Hutchison’ in her primary race against Rick Perry.”

Even if Davis chooses to stay in the state senate, her high-profile abortion stance could be a hindrance. Although she’d be favored to win re-election, she would face a stiff challenge from a Republican nominee, Kronberg and other Texas political observers believe. Two Republicans, one a Tea Party favorite, the other her opponent last time around, are expected to run, and her district went for Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama last year.

While enthusiastic Democrats like former Dallas–Fort Worth area Congressman Martin Frost told Washington journalists he is urging Davis to run statewide, there are some in the party who would like her to remain in the Texas senate rather than be served up as a sacrificial lamb on the statewide stage. There are 31 senators in the Texas senate, and under customary rules, 11 can block a bill coming to the floor. “Davis is the 12th Democrat, which provides some cushion for the Democrats,” Kronberg points out, “and without her, the district will be won by a Republican. With only 11 Democrats, it becomes easier for Republicans to entice one to defect.” Indeed, one Democrat joined Republicans in supporting the abortion bill.

(MORE: Will She Run?)

Cries of “Run, Wendy, run” are still echoing among Democrats nationwide, but Texans who deal in realpolitik are more dispassionate. The popular Inside Intelligence column, written by Texas Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsey, polled its Texas “insiders” this week on what Davis should do. Almost half said she should stay put in the state senate, 22% said she should run for lieutenant governor, and 16% said she should run for governor. But bottom line, Ramsey wrote, “the overwhelming majority — 74 percent — said neither Davis nor any other Democrat can win a statewide race in Texas in 2014.”

As for Davis, she has said it is governor or state senator, no other spot. At the press club in Washington, she brushed aside a question about filling the vice-presidential slot on a Hillary Clinton ticket in 2016. In the harsh light of the Texas summer sun, such questions seem otherworldly. As one insider told Ramsey: “Strike while the iron is hot and aim higher. Aim for U.S. Senate run. Go big or go home! (Or as in the case of most Texas Democrats seeking statewide office, go big AND then go home.)”

MORE: Meet the Woman Behind the Texas Abortion Filibuster

15 comments
mydads1st
mydads1st

Run Wendy Run! You will fill Ann Richards boots well, and Texas needs women to run the state to clean up the mess the TEA(Traitorous Erratic Anarchist) Party and the scared GOP(Grand Obstructionist Party) have created over the past 30 plus years. You've got my vote! The 2014 mid-term election will make or break Obama in his final two years, and the only way things will change is for the removal the obstructionist. Women should remember re-defining rape, closing of Planned Parenthood and forced intrusive medical examinations legislated into law across the nation. Immigrant off-spring should remember who is obstructing immigration reform and forcing separation of families. All should remember forced sequestration and non-compromising lack of jobs production. The 2014 Mid-term is a-coming! Please do not sit on the sideline! V.O.T.E.(Vote Out The Encumberance) Sweep the House clean in 2014!

HillCountryLady
HillCountryLady

This is the second time a Time Magazine article about Wendy Davis spins the Tea Party line. I thought Time Magazine was a politically independent publication. If I want right-wing spin, I'll watch Fox News.

I look forward to Time's coverage and investigation into how Attorney General Greg Abbott has spent all his time in office suing the Obama Administration and losing. Now, Abbott can reimburse the cost to Texans of his attempts to promote the political career of his mentor Gov. Goodhair, out of the $10 million settlement Abbott received from the owner of a tree that fell on him. Abbott, by the way, was instrumental in getting damages for any other person who happens to jog under a tree and have a branch fall on him or her, at $750,000. Abbott, by the way, benefitted from affirmative action bestowed by the Bush family as George W. Bush named him to the Texas Supreme Court to promote diversity. Yet, Greg Abbott sued the federal government to have the Americans with Disabilities Act (George H.W. Bush's proud achievement) ruled unconstitutional.

I look forward to Time Magazine's in-depth reporting on how Greg Abbott's multimillionaire donors (homebuilders, car dealers and credit card companies) have benefitted from laws changed to favor them.

SmoothEdward1
SmoothEdward1

I see the Conservative media and the GOP are planning to double-down on hatred. They are so filled with rage because of changing demographics, the only way they can win elections is to disenfranchise  voters, and have their media establishment come up with names like, Abortion Barbie. Really pathetic.  Meanwhile, the nation's business goes unattended while they play their little power games.

JdReader
JdReader

Wanting to charge Sen. Davis for Hair-Do Perry calling a Second Special Session is about the dumbest thing

to come out of a Texas Republican's mouth in  a while.  Religion-driven agendas such as the battle over abortion

violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment  and the Privacy Clause of the 4th Amendment.

trusgift
trusgift

She stood on her feet for 11 hours to protect freedom, privacy, access to health care and women's autonomy over their own bodies.  The dismissive tone of this article fails to acknowledge the gravity of those principles and the fact that they are crucial to civilization, whether or not Davis benefited politically.  I hope that she does collect the funds she needs to make a run for governor, as the imbecilic, self-serving, theocrats of convenience running Texas need to be driven out.

cloudninegirl
cloudninegirl

She stood on her feet for 11 hours to champion killing babies. THIS WOMAN IS NOT TO BE ADMIRED.

HillCountryLady
HillCountryLady

@MisterH Kirsten Powers is a Fox News employee who only plays a Democrat on television. As Kirsten Powers has no natural children of her own and has never adopted or fostered any children who were unwanted, I think she should first put her money where her mouth is on the topic, by spending less time opining on Fox News and more changing diapers as she feels so very passionately about this issue. There are many hundreds of thousands of foster children living in abusive situations. Ball is in her court.

bonnydaisy
bonnydaisy

@cloudninegirl She stood on her feet for eleven hours to save the only healthcare  many women across the state of Texas have ever known. She stood on her feet for eleven hours to save their access to cancer screenings and preventative care. She stood on her feet for eleven hours to save Texas woman from anti-life legislation: yes, ANTI-LIFE, anybody who is unwilling to make exemptions for rape victims and takes away vital health services from women is anti-life to me. She may not be admirable to YOU, but as a champion for women, she is incredibly admirable to me and, thankfully, countless women across this country. 

BobJan
BobJan

@cloudninegirl  We're a Christian Nation founded on Christian principles. LOL, slavery, low low wages, poverty, no health care, crumbling cities, crumbling bridges, crumbling roads, education that costs an arm and a leg, etc., and we've murdered  54,000,000+ fetuses/babies beside the adults we execute. Who ever came up with this Christian Nation malarkey should do their homework. I thought the Bible has the Ten Commandments given by GOD  that we are to live by. There's only 10 and we can't even get those down pat even though we say we're a "Christian Nation".  Jesus said, "you honor GOD with the same tongue that you spew hatred". (paraphrased of course)

hivemaster
hivemaster

@BobJan This country worships nothing but money.  Many of the rich try to pass as Christians, because it's kind of expected, but they aren't really.  If the GOP were really serious about stoppping abortion, they had a friendly president, a stacked court, and both houses of Congress for SIX YEARS.  Abortion is still legal, because if they were to actually outlaw it, huge amounts of voters would simply drop out, their cause fulfilled.  The GOP can't have that.