Wendy Davis goes to Washington: Did Texas abortion fight create a new star?

Wendy Davis gained national fame for her staunch opposition of a Texas abortion bill. Now, she's coming to D.C. to raise money and sounding like someone who might run for governor.

Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram/AP
State Sen. Wendy Davis applauds the crowd gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, to support the Stand With Women tour last week. The group spoke about the lack of statewide hearings on a tough abortion bill.

There are rare cases when a local politician bursts onto the scene with such gusto that he or she manages to captivate a national audience and, almost overnight, inspire talk of a career on the rise. Barack Obama, with his 2004 Democratic National Convention address, did just that, setting him on a rapid ascent from Illinois state senator to US senator to becoming the nation’s first black president.

But just as often, those lawmakers tend to stumble somewhat on the way up – think Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida during his Republican Party response to Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address or Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's cringe-inducing primary night scream in Iowa in 2004.

TexasWendy Davis – the telegenic state senator who captured the hearts of many Democrats across the country as the pink-sneakers-wearing Lone Star State mama who filibustered Republicans’ initial attempt to enact one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation – is the latest star in the making. Even after the Texas Legislature subsequently passed the bill she had worked so hard to sink, she is garnering national attention for her efforts.

Senator Davis is headed to Washington for fundraisers and meet-and-greets. Her visit later this month reinforces talk that she’ll launch a gubernatorial bid. And with Gov. Rick Perry (R) announcing earlier this month that he won’t run again, Davis is potentially primed for a 2014 battle for an open seat in a state that isn’t always friendly to liberals.

She has already raked in almost $1 million in donations; her campaign released a statement indicating that during the last two weeks in June, she received 15,000 individual donations. A nice windfall by the standards of most campaigns, but especially for a state senator who hasn’t yet declared her intentions to run for anything else.

Davis will host two fundraisers on July 25. The first, a $500-per-person breakfast at Johnny’s Half Shell, will feature a host of Democratic lawmakers, including a half-dozen Democratic senators. The second event, held at the U Street haunt Local 16, offers tickets at prices ranging from $25 to $250.

These events are being reported by media outlets as a strong sign that Davis is moving toward a bid. And underscoring them, she penned an opinion article in The Washington Post this week outlining her reasons for filibustering. A clear introduction to the national set, it was headlined, “Why I Stood Up for Texas Women.”

In the column, she calls Texas “the greatest state in the greatest nation,” and asserts that “Texans – and women all over the country – deserve leaders that care, that listen and that work to protect their interests.”

“In the end, the filibuster was a means to continue the fight and stand up to Republican leaders,” she writes. “That fight is not a new one for me. As a senator from the only true swing district in the Texas Senate, I’ve been targeted by the GOP for my outspoken criticism of their extremist attacks on public education and voting rights, to name just two examples. My nearly 13-hour stand against the effort to deny women access to basic health care evolved into a people’s filibuster opposing a selfish and out-of-touch leadership that refuses to listen to real families with real hopes.”

With that paragraph alone, she's reframing herself as a centrist able to take on the GOP more broadly around a range of issues. She uses typical campaign buzzwords – she’s a fighter, she says, and a veteran at that.

If Davis takes a shot at the state’s top job, she could face Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has announced his intention to run. He has a formidable campaign war chest – $23 million, according to NBC News.

Davis was a teen mother who became the first in her family to go to college – Texas Christian University, from which she earned a degree in English in 1990. She graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1993.

It’s been almost two decades since a Democrat won the Texas governorship. The last Democrat to serve was Ann Richards. She held office from 1991 to 1995. Perry has held that job since his election in 2000. Before him, of course, George W. Bush ran the state.

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