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What the future may hold for Wendy Davis

Patricia Kilday Hart has her take on the Wendy Davis phenomenon, including the reaction of some Republicans to it.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

For both proponents and opponents of SB 5, the legislation that would have banned abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy and required costly upgrades to abortion facilities, one point was irrefutable: The filibuster created a new star for Texas Democrats.

“She’s the real deal. Humble beginnings … and she’s wickedly smart. The fact is, she does her best against the greatest odds,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. “Her future is whatever she wants it to be.” Agreed Sen. Rodney Ellis: “The sky is the limit.”

Republican campaign consultant Matt Mackowiak said Republican strategic errors carried a real cost for his party. “We now have a Wendy Davis problem,” he acknowledged. “We created an unbelievable opportunity to launch a first-tier Democrat.”

Still, given Davis’ liberal record and the state’s solid Republican bent, he said those who think a Democratic candidate can defeat Gov. Rick Perry or Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2014 are delusional. “I don’t think that person exists,” he said.

Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, a physician who challenged Davis’ position during Tuesday’s filibuster, agreed that better Republican planning could have prevented Davis’ moment in the limelight. He had advocated passing two other pieces of legislation, and adjourning, leaving the abortion bill for a second special session.

He also does not believe that Davis “will ever be governor of Texas.” In fact, she may have difficulty hanging onto her Texas Senate seat, when she runs in 2014 in a non-presidential year,” he said.

“Obama is not on the ticket,” he noted, and her last race was a tough, expensive ordeal.

Glad to know I’m not the only one who thought the Republicans’ strategy on Tuesday was nuts. But let’s knock down this idea that Davis necessarily has a harder time holding onto her State Senate seat next year because it’s not a Presidential year. You can find all the electoral reports for the State Senate map here – look for the RED206 Statewide files. Here are the best Democratic results in SD10 for each election going back to 2002:

Year Race R Vote D Vote R Pct D Pct ================================================ 2002 Lt Gov 92,324 81,771 53.0 47.0 2004 CCA 6 151,278 111,000 57.7 42.3 2006 Sup Ct 2 79,897 71,640 52.7 47.3 2008 Sup Ct 7 146,726 138,650 50.2 47.4 2010 Gov 90,897 76,920 52.7 44.6 2012 Sup Ct 6 143,816 128,484 50.8 45.4

2008 was less hostile to Dems than other years, but 2012 is basically on par with 2006 and 2002, in terms of margin of victory. 2012 was also a lot more challenging for Davis than 2008 was. John McCain won SD10 in 2008 by 15,000 votes and a 52.1 – 47.1 margin. Mitt Romney won SD10 by 23,000 votes and a 53.3 – 45.4 margin. Despite that, Davis won by 6,500 votes in 2012, which is almost as wide as the 7,000 vote margin she had in 2008, in a friendlier atmosphere. Turnout helped her in 2008, but it’s hard to argue it was much help 2012, as President Obama received 11,000 fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008 in SD10. Davis’ vote total, on the other hand, was nearly identical – 147,832 in 2008, 147,103 in 2012. She was one of only three candidates to win in a district that was not carried by her party’s Presidential candidate – Craig Eiland and Pete Gallego were the other two. She got 4,000 more votes than President Obama did in 2008, and a whopping 15,000 more votes than he did in 2012. That’s pretty strong evidence of her ability to attract crossover votes. Dismiss her if you want, but this is exactly the profile of someone who could be competitive statewide. Plus, as a plaintiff in the redistricting litigation, she offered to settle by accepting the 2012 interim map for the Senate. Maybe there’s some hubris in there, but if she thought she was doomed in 2014, I daresay she’d have continued to fight for more changes to the map. We already know she doesn’t back down from a fight, no matter how long and drawn-out it may be.

Now, this doesn’t mean that she couldn’t lose in 2014. SD10 is still a red-leaning district. If 2014 is a sufficiently GOP year, the hill could become too steep for her. Her elevated profile could work against her as well in that it might make her look more like a partisan Democrat to her Republican supporters, thus making her less attractive to them. It’s usually not that hard to convince people to vote for the home team. I suspect her profile is already pretty high in her district and the voters there already know what team she plays for, after two high-profile Presidential year elections, but crossover appeal can be a fickle thing. On the other hand, if she thinks there may be reason to be concerned about her prospects in SD10, that would serve as incentive to roll the dice on a statewide run. Be careful what you wish for, Sen. Deuell.

I suspect the bravado about her never being Governor masks a certain nervousness, too. Republicans must know that what happened on Tuesday is something they can’t control. Forget the political junkies and their yapping about parliamentary procedures, and forget the Internet junkies and their incessant memes. Focus on the fact that Wendy Davis is getting positive attention from lifestyle columnists and Amazon shoe reviewers, all of which will contribute to making Davis a known and likable figure among the lower-information folks. Don’t underestimate the power of the shoes here to help get the word out. If I hear my mother-in-law mention the name Wendy Davis, I’ll know for sure this is working.

On a more basic level, the fact that Rick Perry felt the need to take a cheap shot at her is mighty telling. As Wayne Slater notes, Perry has just elevated Davis to his political level, implying that she is this fearsome adversary he must fight. Not to mention the fact that he sounded like an arrogant, patronizing jerk – exactly the sort of behavior Kyrie O’Connor was talking about in her column. Maybe no one has ever told Rick Perry this, but the vast majority of women really really don’t like that kind of crap. Remember Sandra Fluke? Or Clayton Williams? During the marathon #StandWithWendy filibuster on Tuesday, I saw a tweet from someone who wondered how long it would be before Rush Limbaugh called Sen. Davis a slut. That hasn’t happened yet, but there are a lot of Rush acolytes out there, and I find it impossible to believe that one of them won’t follow Perry’s insult with something really nasty sooner or later. That sort of thing didn’t work out very well for the GOP in 2012. Davis herself was a beneficiary of that in her 2012 race. It’s fine by me if the GOP wants to go there. I just don’t think they’ve thought it through if they do.

Anyway. Sen. Davis has responded to Perry, and I’m quite certain this is not the end of it. Sen. Davis is leaving the door open to running for Governor in 2014. There’s certainly a lot of interest in her walking through that door. She’d need some stars to align for her to take that risk, but right now at least it looks to me like they just might be moving in that direction.

UPDATE: And when someone says something vile about Sen. Davis, Roy will be there to document it.

UPDATE: Fantasy casting the Wendy Davis biopic. Yeah, this is bigger than you think.

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7 Comments

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  2. […] course, we know Castro isn’t running, so that’s strictly fantasy football stuff. As I suggested before, Davis’ higher profile might actually work against her a bit, in that the forceful reminder […]

  3. byron schirmbeck says:

    I was looking at the SD 10 results not that long ago, don’t discount the 7K + votes for the Libertarian candidate. Of course they wouldn’t all go to the R in the race if there was no L but her margin was about 7k votes. Should be interesting to see if her filibuster has staying power for her and launches her higher or if it was her swan song it’s one or the other. I would say whether she holds her seat or not in 2014 will be directly because of her decision.

  4. Byron, I looked at that 2008 race back at the time:

    http://offthekuff.com/wp/?p=4171

    Davis had 49.89% of the vote. She needed less than 7% of the Libertarian candidate’s vote total to achieve a majority. It’s my opinion that the presence of the L candidate made no difference in the outcome. And there was no L candidate in the 2012 race.

    I definitely agree that the events of the past weeks will have an effect on her in 2014, one way or another. We just don’t know what that effect will be yet.

  5. byron schirmbeck says:

    As usual your research is outstanding. Yes I agree if there was no L in the race the outcome wouldn’t have been different, I was just pointing out that if every L vote went to Brimer (which wouldn’t happen as many would stay home) it would have been a win for Brimer, still it was one of the closest contested races I was looking at out of 5 or 6 that I was looking at. Especially when you consider Brimer’s lackluster efforts vs. Davis’ spirited and well funded campaign. I read something that a few weeks from the election Brimer’s webpage was still under construction. While I imagine Wendy is going to get a large warchest from her filibuster from liberals I would also imagine the pro lifers are going to find a competitive candidate to run against her and fund it very well too. It should be a fair fight and I would guess one of the more expensive races when it is all done.

  6. […] What the Future May Hold for Wendy Davis Charles Kuffner, Off the Kuff Some good links, but also, of course, Kuff’s trademark analysis of election data. […]

  7. […] heard correct information or not, but I basically agree with his reasoning here. I’ve said before that Sen. Davis’ higher profile is an asset for a statewide run, but not necessarily one for […]

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