Can Democrats like Wendy Davis change Texas?
Since filibustering agains Texas' restrictive abortion bill, state Senator Wendy Davis has been in the national spotlight. Davis defeated a Republican opponent by building a coalition of low-income and minority voters. Some say the tactic could give Democrats an advantage in Texas.
Austin, Texas — State Sen. Wendy Davis, whose filibuster against Texas abortion restrictions gained her national fame, insists Democrats will be competitive in next year's statewide races but hasn't decided whether she'll be part of the slate of candidates for offices currently dominated by Republicans.
The Harvard-trained lawyer told The Associated Press she has been fielding congratulatory phone calls from around the world since her marathon filibuster Tuesday that helped run out the clock on the special session and kill the abortion bill. But she hasn't determined if she should seek re-election to the Senate or, as some have encouraged her, aim higher and perhaps run for governor.
Davis said she is concentrating on the second special legislative session that begins Monday, when Republicans will try again to pass a bill that likely would shut down at least 37 out of 42 abortion clinics in the state and impose other restrictions on the procedure.
"When we get through it, and I can lift my head up, and I'm back in my district with my constituents I will have more time to think about (the future)," she said. "I think the more important question is what will the people do with their newfound power? I think Tuesday was a game-changer in Texas."
Since she first defeated a Republican incumbent in a swing district in 2008, Texas Democrats have seen in Davis the charisma and fight needed to win statewide office. But candidates can't win on their own; they need local political clubs to get excited, county-based organizations to guarantee turnout and at least $16 million and hundreds of volunteers to run a campaign in the country's second-largest state.
Democrats haven't won such a race since 1994. Texas ranks 47th in the country in voter participation, and the party can't seem to get more than 43 percent of the ballots.
Changing demographics, though, have given Democrats hope of reviving their party as Hispanics and young people make up a larger proportion of eligible voters. Davis won her district by building a coalition of Hispanics, African-Americans and low-income whites — groups that, when combined, make up the majority of Texans.
Davis said she dedicated her filibuster to people too often ignored by the Republican leadership.
"Their voice mattered, and they made a difference," she said. "It may be that we go into this next special session and they are drowned out, but I don't think they are going to remain quiet. I think this has engaged the public in Texas who are tired of the leadership they are seeing."
National Democratic activists recognized the potential for change in the state last year and provided funding for a campaign called Battleground Texas. But recognizing the staggering challenge of activating a moribund state party, the group has talked about winning elections for Democrats in 2018 — not 2014.
Davis' old-school filibuster — where she spent most of 12 hours standing and speaking — has strategists questioning whether she has sped up the timeline or if she's too early. So far, no Democrat has announced a candidacy for one of the state's seven statewide offices up for election next year.
Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who took over the Texas Democratic Party in 2011, insists the party is ready.
"Women have not always voted for the Democrats, and now they'll see that we are fighting for them and they will vote for us," he told the AP. "People in Texas are taking a look at the ugly face of the Republican Party and taking a better look at the Democratic Party."
But whether they can win in 2014 may depend on whether Davis runs for governor and the party can recruit other Democrats to run as a group for the other six seats.
"Everyone is waiting to see what Wendy will do," Hinojosa said. "If Wendy chooses to run for governor, the line to run with her will be long."
Gov. Rick Perry, who has said he will announce his re-election plans when the legislative session is over and his presidential plans later this year, called the Democrats' strategy a "pipe dream" when he appeared on the Laura Ingraham radio show last week.
"They use that to raise money nationally, but the state of Texas will continue to be a place that believes in freedom," Perry said. "(Democrats) believe in higher taxes, they believe in more regulation, they believe in having litigation that keeps the courts all jammed up."
But Davis said not to count out Democrats in next year's Texas races.
"Democrats absolutely have the opportunity to make a powerful push in 2014, and I will be part of helping make that push happen, whether I'm doing it as a leader, or helping to push it forward in some other way," she said.
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