Imagining Wendy Davis' First Week on the Campaign Trail

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, at the Haranbee Festival in Fort Worth on Oct. 6, 2012.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, at the Haranbee Festival in Fort Worth on Oct. 6, 2012.

While we won't know for sure for a couple of weeks, political observers say state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, appears likely to run for governor. And that got us wondering: How might she begin her campaign in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide in decades? Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune takes us into the future with this envisioning of Davis’ first days on the campaign trail.

Davis held her campaign kickoff on a field beside I M Terrell Elementary in Fort Worth. The location gave Davis a chance to campaign on the need to invest in state infrastructure, with the school on one side of her and Interstate 30 on the other. The theme of her opening speech: bringing Texans together.

“Together we can do what they won’t," Davis told a raucous crowd. "We can stand, we can stand up for each other, we can stand up for what’s right, and we can stand up for Texas. God bless you."

Davis then hopped on a bus for a weeklong campaign tour. Her first stop? Not a Democratic stronghold. And not a bad idea, according to Democratic strategist Jason Stanford.

 

“I thought it was very clever of her to reinforce that she is a cross-over Democrat, a new kind of Democrat, by going on a tour of Starbucks in north Dallas and Plano," Stanford said. "I think that really showed that she understands where people live. And that she can identify with the kind of cross-over voters we’ve been losing for a long time.”

Stanford said not campaigning the way Democrats usually do is important since "what Democrats usually do is lose — she wants to win.”

So maybe it wasn’t a huge surprise that day two of her bus tour took her to East Texas. That’s a part of the state that Democrats have all but abandoned over the last two decades. Democratic consultant Harold Cook said the trip doesn’t mean she’ll win any of those deep red counties, but every additional vote counts.

“Democrats have been killed election after election, sometimes as badly as 20 percent to 80 percent," Cook said. "And if you can even hold that down to 30/70, 35/65, then you’ve already come a long way toward winning an election."

While on the road, Davis deflected attention from her best-known political moment: the filibuster of a controversial abortion bill back in June. Cook said the effort to talk about other matters was aimed at showing people that the campaign will not be about one issue.

"I am not about any single issue, and I am not about any single party. Here’s what I’ll be," Cook quoted from Davis' stump speech, adding that she would have to "defend herself against the vicious Republican attacks that have already started."

Attacks that started Oct. 3, seconds after she announced her candidacy.

“One of the downsides of putting that date out, out so far forward is you give your opponents a chance to put a thoughtful strategic plan together to try and step on that announcement," said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak.

 

But Mackowiak said Republicans didn’t need any extra time to come up with a strategy against Davis. A new web video ties Davis to President Obama, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and, of course, her famous filibuster.

“The abortion filibuster has taken her moderate image and it’s turned her into a single-issue candidate," he said. "Whether she wants to be or not or whether it’s fair or not are totally immaterial. And the end of the day, it’s the one thing that everyone across the country and the one thing that most people in Texas, outside of Fort Worth, know about her."

Davis’ campaign got a breather from the attack ad, and a few anti-abortion protesters, when the campaign bus turned south to visit the Democratic stronghold of the Texas-Mexico border.

Along the way, Davis picked up a passenger, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, a newly announced candidate for lieutenant governor.

Lize Burr, of Capital Area Democratic Women, said seeing the two women campaigning for the state’s top two offices was an emotional jolt.

“It’s hard to understand what it’s like to have had two women governors in this state, to have had no women lieutenant governors in the past, to have not had a woman attorney general, to have had the lack of diversity," Burr said. "It really is very moving."

Davis’ kickoff tour ended at the feet of a Texas icon, the State Fair’s Big Tex. The move again put her in an unfiltered crowd, and was focused on her efforts to woo cross-over voters.

“But by going out and eating a corny dog in Dallas and shaking hands with fairgoers, I think that was really refreshing, and I think most voters will, too," Stanford said.

With the first week on the campaign trail behind her, Davis must now concentrate on the harsh realities ahead.

She’ll need to raise as much as $40 million to get her message out across Texas. She’ll need to court voters who have either never voted or have only voted for Republicans over the last 20 years.

And even if she succeeds on both fronts, she’ll still face long odds.

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