What are the odds for Wendy?

After a week of Democratic energy and exhilaration like we haven’t seen in a long time here thanks to the Wendy Davis filibuster, there are a lot of people who’d like to see Sen. Davis run for Governor. No doubt if she did, she’d make a race out of it, and would have no shortage of energy or fundraising resources. Whether or not she can actually win, however, remains unclear.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

In victory and defeat alike, there were jolts of energy unlike any felt by Lone Star Democrats since the GOP took complete control of state government a decade ago.

“Texas Democrats have dug themselves a big hole over the last 20 years,” said Austin Democratic consultant Harold Cook. “In one week, Republicans have done all they can to backfill much of it.”

The high-profile social issues of immigration, abortion and civil rights play right into Democrats’ strategy with their much-publicized “Battleground Texas” comeback plan: Energize minority voters and single women who historically have voted at lower levels than social conservatives, while persuading some swing voters such as younger Anglos and suburban women to abandon the GOP.


A short-term victory for Texas Democrats: doubtless. But that obscures a more important question: Will these events dramatically hasten the day when deep red Texas is once again a politically competitive state? Or is Democratic talk of a “purple” Texas as soon as 2014 an early-summer fantasy fueled by the euphoria of the past week?

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson warns Democrats not to be swept away by “Wendy-mania.”

“The events of the past week have certainly amped up the energy in Texas politics, but the changes required to turn Texas purple, let alone blue, will still be a decade or more in coming,” Jillson said.

Indeed, a Houston Chronicle analysis of election data from 2000 to 2012 found that demographic shifts toward an ever-increasing minority population will only take Democrats so far. The study, conducted last November, found that if current demographic and voting trends continue, Texas will become a politically competitive state in 2020 and a true toss-up in 2024.

The study assumes no spike in registration or turnout among Texas Latinos or a shift among minority voters either away from or toward the GOP. It also assumes that independent swing voters will not dramatically shift from their current Republican leanings.

“The Democratic comeback in Texas depends on two things: The will to do it and the resources to do it,” said Glenn Smith, a longtime Democratic consultant and campaign manager for former Gov. Ann Richards. “Demographic changes are not enough. That is a pipe dream. We have to raise the money and do the hard work.”

The Trib had some cold water as well.

Wendy Davis is never going to see a better moment for a statewide run for office, even though the odds of a Democrat winning statewide in Texas could not be worse.

She would almost certainly lose.

There are always more reasons not to run than to run. But she has emerged as the predominant voice on an issue that pits the party in power against the party out of power. She has a sea of orange shirts behind her, and the Republicans are clearly very, very irritated by her presence on the stage. They’re also irritated that their own officeholders are largely responsible for the attention she’s getting.


Davis would probably be defeated in a statewide race. Opportunity could have picked a better time to knock. A strong party, good political infrastructure and money can cover a lot of candidate flaws. Both parties have won elections in Texas over the decades with standard-bearers possessing no discernable political skills. Likewise, lots of good candidates from both parties have fallen short because they were in the right place at the wrong time.

That might describe Davis. And it’s not clear she has what it takes to run a statewide race.

She is a local candidate suddenly, and perhaps momentarily, stuck in the spotlight.

She has no statewide network, and her political party doesn’t have the kind of infrastructure that parties are supposed to provide to candidates just coming into their own.

Money is a problem, though her ability to raise funds in Texas and, more importantly, from elsewhere in the country, rose tenfold over the last week. She has a hot hand right now and could put some money together.

The Republicans have the governor — if he decides to run again. And they have Attorney General Greg Abbott, who doesn’t have the Perry’s charisma but has that political infrastructure, lots of money ($18 million at the end of the year) and a party behind him that hasn’t lost a statewide election since 1994.

A bettor would have to go with the Republicans.

It’s hard to argue with that. The numbers are what they are. For all the talk about off-year elections being bad for Democrats, in some ways 2014 offers more hope than 2016 would because Republican turnout is lower in off-year elections as well. More to the point, Republican turnout in off-year elections can vary quite a bit. In 2006, top GOP vote-getter Kay Bailey Hutchison received about 58% of George W. Bush’s 2004 vote total; most of her fellow Republicans got a couple points less than that. In 2010, most Republicans on the ticket were at about 67% of John McCain’s 2008 total. Since McCain got about as many votes as Bush did, that was a huge swing for the GOP, from about 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 votes in all. Democrats, on the other hand, have been stuck in the 1.7 million to 1.8 million range for most candidates for three consecutive off-year elections, despite going from 2.8 million votes in 2004 to 3.5 million in 2008 and 3.4 million in 2012. (Bill White in 2010 and John Sharp in 2002 are the only two Dems to top 2 million votes in non-Presidential years since 2002.) Dems went from about 65% of John Kerry’s total vote in 2006 to only 57% of President Obama’s vote total in 2010. Getting up to a GOP 2010 level of the vote in 2014 would boost the base level to about 2.3 million. Still not enough to win, but at least in the same ZIP code. From that base, you can imagine a candidate with crossover appeal, a bit of extra turnout, a mediocre turnout year for the other guys, and maybe a little something else to get over the top. A longshot, but not a no-shot.

Of course, Democrats don’t have much control over the level of Republican turnout. The Rs have a lot less work to do to get to a a good level, and may not have to do anything in particular. I doubt they’ll have the intensity of 2010, but it’s hard to imagine them having the lethargy of 2006. Nobody knows what may happen between now and next year that could affect any of these factors – I mean, as recently as a week ago there was no reason to believe Wendy Davis was about to become a national figure. There’s a ton of national desire to see Davis take the leap, but it can’t be done without some real downside risk. Never mind Davis losing, running for Governor means giving up her Senate seat, which will be an extremely tough hold without her running for it. That’s one reason why I’ve been advocating for the likes of Rodney Ellis, who has a decent amount of cash on hand and isn’t up for election in 2014, and Cecile Richards to announce for Governor. I think either one could capture a lot of the energy Davis has helped create, without putting an incumbent on the line. For that matter, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte drew a four-year term and could run without risk in 2014 as well. She’s got less cash on hand than Ellis, but made herself almost as big a name as Davis did in the chaotic last moments of the filibuster. There are options in 2014 if Davis wants to take the less-risky path. This may be her best moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right moment. It’s a tough decision, and I don’t envy her having to make it.

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2 Responses to What are the odds for Wendy?

  1. Pingback: 2014 | Camposcommunications's Blog

  2. Mainstream says:

    I think Sen. Davis might run surprisingly strong among older Anglo women who make up a core constituency of the GOP base. And her single parenthood might resonate with some of the younger single parent voters who are otherwise socially conservative.

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