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If you read just one more story about Wendy Davis’ campaign

I would recommend you read this one, by Andrea Grimes.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

In four months, Texans are guaranteed to elect a new governor for the first time in 14 years, and Davis’ battle stance is appropo: She’s been under attack from naysayers, pundits, and even members of her own party since before she announced her candidacy for Texas governor back in October. Today, she continues to fall well behind her Republican opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in statewide polls, though the most recent financial reports show that Davis out-raised Abbott in the last fundraising period, and she often boasts about a grassroots base that she says puts Abbott’s small but monied good-ole-boy network to shame.

But politicos on both sides of the aisle have worried that Davis, who took her Fort Worth, Texas, Senate seat in 2008 and held on to it in a hard-fought battle in 2012, has skyrocketed to fame too quickly, taking on the burden of running for statewide office before she, or the State of Texas, is ready. Following her filibuster of an omnibus anti-abortion bill that is expected to shutter all but a handful of abortion providers in Texas, even one of her fellow Democrats situated Davis as being unable to break away from accusations that she’s a one-issue candidate who peaked on a summer night in 2013.

And the national media has expressed a singular fascination with Davis’ footwear, cooing over the pink Mizuno sneakers she wore on the floor of the Texas Senate on June 25, 2013. That day, Davis stood for 13 hours, reading Texans’ abortion stories and unheard testimony from citizens who had, days earlier, been shut out of a committee hearing by a Republican lawmaker who called their concerns about reducing access to reproductive health care “repetitive.”

That bill eventually passed in a second special legislative session, with pro-choice Democrats and Republicans roundly outnumbered by their anti-choice colleagues. A Republican pundit quickly gave Davis the glib and sexist nickname “Abortion Barbie,” and conservatives have worked hard to try and make it stick.

But Davis’ policy bench goes deep, as does her bipartisan record: the Harvard-educated lawyer served on the Fort Worth City Council for nine years, overseeing remarkable economic development initiatives and voting in Republican primaries, even donating to Republican campaigns. When she ran for state senate as a conservative Democrat in 2008, she took the office from a Republican incumbent and later held on to the seat in a costly and combative race against Tea Partier Mark Shelton in 2012. In 2011, Davis filibustered in the state senate for the first time, opposing a $4-billion cut to education funding and forcing Gov. Rick Perry into a special legislative session. In 2013, she shepherded through a Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act with nigh-unprecedented bipartisan support, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.

If, despite this record, Davis is considered a one-trick pony in pink sneakers, what must we make of her opponent, Greg Abbott? Abbott frequently describes, only half-jokingly, most of his 12 years on the job as attorney general thusly: “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”

[...]

Despite the fact that both parties are running very different, very big-personality candidates, Davis has almost exclusively borne the brunt of both legitimate and bad-faith criticism, and she has been the primary subject of an outsized share of the 2014 Texas statewide race coverage, perhaps because of her novelty as a viable Democrat—and a woman, at that.

And yet the strengths that make Davis a potential winner are, simultaneously, the very weaknesses that seem to bring her down. It all depends on who you ask.

To the anti-choice talk-radio crowd, Davis continues to be “Abortion Barbie,” too blonde and not nearly matronly enough to garner anything but outright misogynistic derision from Erick Erickson, Rush Limbaugh, and their ilk. To the national media, Davis is the sneaker-wearing—never, never forget the pink sneakers—underdog about whom a steady stream of “Can she or can’t she?” stories must be written until election day. To Texas political wonks, she’s a charismatic leader playing a losing hand as poll after poll shows her trailing Greg Abbott by double digits. To Texas’ long-beleaguered liberal media, she’s Moses without a map.

And Davis is also under tremendous political pressure to appeal to a wide array of moderate, liberal, and progressive voters that an ever-rightward leaning Texas GOP has long left behind.

To those who would or could support her, she variously: talks too much about abortion, doesn’t talk enough about abortion, secretly wants to militarize the border, wants to give all immigrants citizenship starting tomorrow, is an out-of-touch capitol insider, needs more experience in the capitol, should focus on Medicaid expansion, should get tougher on environmental concerns, should spend more time in the Rio Grande Valley, should stop pandering to people in the Rio Grande Valley, needs to recapture that filibuster spirit, should stop relying on the filibuster to carry her through November, and so-on and so-forth, and lo, the list lengthens as November 4 grows closer.

Wendy Davis just can’t seem to do anything right, and nobody on either side of the aisle seems to mind weighing in on the nuances of why, and how, she’s setting herself—and by extension, all Texas Democrats—up to fail this November.

Meanwhile, Greg Abbott—whose Republican party just weeks ago recommended “reparative therapy” for gay people and called for easing foster parents’ ability to use corporal punishment on their wards—is taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Koch chemical companies before handing down favorable AG rulings that lessen the corporate behemoth’s public safety obligations, and all folks seem to want to know is what he’s thinking for the window treatments in that big, pretty governor’s mansion at 11th and Lavaca in downtown Austin.

If things look a little off to you, you’re not the only one who thinks so.

Grimes’ story is by far the best one I’ve read about the campaign, and it gets at a number of things I’ve thought about but haven’t been able to express nearly as well as she has done. It’s the first story I’ve seen that does more than just writes about what’s right in front of someone’s nose, or which complains about the campaign not doing the things that the writer wants the campaign to do.

I can’t begin to tell you how frustrated I’ve been at the lack of coverage and analysis on Battleground Texas and the Davis ground game. We’ve never seen anything like it before, and while I get plenty of email from BGTX telling me how awesome it’s all going, it would be nice to get an objective evaluation now and again. Yet one critic of Davis and her campaign after another, from Lisa Falkenberg to Bob Ray Sanders to Paul Burka write as if Davis is acting in a vacuum. (Forrest Wilder has been the exception to this.) Davis and BGTX clearly understand that she can’t win – hell, she can’t really compete – with the same Democratic electorate and turnout levels that we’ve seen since 2002, but no one analyze the polls beyond the headline numbers. How effective a job is BGTX, which wasn’t originally intended to be a force in 2014, doing? What are their targets, realistic and reach, for this year? How are they doing in high-growth, generally red suburban areas like Collin and Williamson, how are they doing in places Democrats have long abandoned like West Texas, and how are they doing in the critical Dem-heavy but turnout-light places in South Texas and the Valley? Do the Team Obama methods translate from Ohio and Florida, where voters are used to being harassed frequently contacted by campaigns, to a (shall we say) more laissez-faire state like Texas? How do the BGTX foot soldiers feel about the bad polls for Davis? So many questions, so little interest in the media in exploring any of them.

Actually, I’ve been saying all along that the Davis/BGTX ground game effort has never been seen before in Texas, but is that really true? The Bill White campaign had a lot going on, and Lord knows the Tony Sanchez campaign spent money like it was going out of style. What had they been doing by this point in the campaign? What is Davis/BGTX doing that they didn’t, and vice versa? I’m sure there’s a great story to be told there, if someone cared to look into it.

I honestly have no idea what to expect from the BGTX effort. I believe they’re having an effect, and I believe that effect will show up on Election Day, but I have no clue how much of an effect. One can certainly criticize the choices the Davis campaign has made in its messaging, and one can certainly believe that emphasizing various themes differently could put Davis in a better position to succeed – Grimes does so with gusto – but there’s no way to know. Nate Silver can simulate a thousand elections based on exogenous factors like the economy and various approval ratings and the accuracy of polls, but I don’t know how to predict the efficacy of a turnout operation, even one with the pedigree of Team Obama and its BGTX founders. They could be wildly successful at boosting base turnout from the recent anemic levels yet still fall well short of victory for Davis and the rest of the statewide Democratic ticket. The post mortem will have plenty of evidence to dissect, but until then we’re all talking out of our nether regions.

Anyway. Go read the whole thing and see what you think.

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3 Comments

  1. Julian Deleon says:

    It is articles like this that do not help a good Democratic candidate, the Democratic party, or the hard-working people of Battle Ground Texas.

    I think a good number of people would not agree with what you wrote here.

  2. Bob S. says:

    What math are you working with to suggest Wendy is falling well behind her opponent? Who from the Democrat is a Wendy naysayer, pundit or attacking her as per this writing? More facts please.

  3. It’s pretty mind-boggling how little press coverage the Davis campaign gets inside the state. And when combined with the fact that national outlets have already decided the race, it becomes even more frustrating. I for one thought that BGTX making over 2 million phones before July was even out was a big triumph, but you probably didn’t even hear that stat in the news. Check the latest MSNBC coverage…

    http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/wendy-davis-texas-first-tv-ad-greg-abbott

    But this is an environment Davis is used to. Keep in mind that both of her elections in the supposedly-red SD 10 were like this. Everyone counted her out, and wrote her off. I for one think this is anybody’s game.

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