Why The Rise Of Wendy Davis Could Actually Spell Trouble For Texas Democrats

Wendy Davis Texas

Will Wendy Davis run for governor of Texas? That’s the buzz this week after the Democratic State Senator’s marathon filibuster of controversial abortion-related legislation

But many Republicans and even Democrats believe that though Davis has stirred up an immense amount of grassroots support among progressive activists, a gubernatorial run would be a pipe dream. 

Their rationale is simple: No candidate is going to win a statewide race in Texas while talking so much about abortion.

“It’s hard for me to believe” Davis would be successful against Perry or Attorney General Greg Abbott, one Republican strategist told Business Insider, citing her prominence on the topic of abortion. “It’s not a Texan issue.”

“On its face, it’s a long shot,” one veteran Democratic strategist said of Davis’ candidacy, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. 

No Democrat has won a statewide election in Texas since 1994. In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry (R) won re-election by 13 points despite being generally viewed as a weak candidate. And according to a new Public Policy Polling survey, Davis would trail Perry by 14 points in a hypothetical matchup.

Privately, many Texas Democrats prefer to run a candidate like San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who gave the keynote speech at last year’s Democratic National Convention. Castro, strategists say, would be better suited to run on issues like education or criminal justice reform, which appeal to a broader audience. He would also be able to better leverage Texas’ rapidly growing Hispanic population.

The PPP poll shows him with half of Davis’ deficit in a matchup against Perry, trailing by just 7 points.

PPP texas poll davis perry

No public polling points to a majority of Texans — or the majority of U.S. voters — siding with Davis on the most controversial element of the abortion bill, a ban on most late-term abortions after 20 weeks. 62% of Texas voters favour a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, according to a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

According to a recent National Journal poll, 48% of voters nationally favoured such a bill — including 53% who were not aligned with either political party. In years of polling, Gallup has never found more than 27% support for second-trimester abortions. In the third trimester, support has never been higher than 14%.

This is why Democrats are broadening the debate into one over women’s health while talking about how the proposed legislation would shutter all but a handful of Texas’ 42 abortion clinics, many of which also provide services like contraception and STD testing.

“If you paid attention to her filibuster last week, it was because you either loved it or hated it,” the Republican strategist said. “But for every progressive, she probably amped up at least three pro-lifers in Texas.”

Democrats prefer to focus on how Davis has ignited grassroots supporters and drawn donations from around the nation. The Democratic grassroots are legitimately excited about her, and they question whether a candidate like Castro could bring in the same kind of support.

But she’d still have a lot of work to do. “For her to win, she’s going to have to build a coalition like she has done with her State Senate seat,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist. “She’s going to have to bring a lot of Democrats and fair-minded Independents aboard.”

“Would she be successful? I don’t know,” said another Democratic strategist. “But she sure has stirred up more energy than any Texas Democrat I’ve seen in a while.”

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