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Gender Gap Emerges as 2014 Ballot Starts to Fill

It's easy to see how gender might become a point of contention in an election where Democrats accuse Republicans of waging a war on women — starting with the number of women running statewide on the two parties' tickets.

Sen. Wendy davis begins her planned 13-hour filibuster of SB 5 on June 25, 2013.

Texas Republicans don’t have the problem Texas Democrats have: There are plenty of conservatives clamoring for the top spots on the ballot. But in a year when their liberal opponents are accusing them of waging a war on women, they could end up with very few women at the top of their ticket.

It is easy to see that as a talking point, especially if the Democratic ticket is led by a woman, but it is difficult to tell what it might mean on Election Day in November 2014.

Many political consultants will say that female candidates outdo male candidates when all other things are equal. Others, like Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth, say the answer is more complex.

“Gender matters less, and ideology — not party, but ideology — matters more,” he said. “It’s not a general advantage or disadvantage.”

The contention that Meg Whitman, a Republican, might have an advantage over Jerry Brown, a Democrat, in the 2010 race for California governor proved to be wrong. Kay Bailey Hutchison lost to Rick Perry in the Republican primary for Texas governor that same year.

Eppstein, a Republican, attributes the wins and the losses to other factors. Democrats, revved up by state Sen. Wendy Davis' sudden celebrity during and after a June debate on a contentious abortion bill, see a potential advantage in topping their slate with a woman against a Republican ticket where women are scarce.

In some ways, the political campaigns on the Republican side are well under way. Perry said in July that he wouldn’t run for another term, and Attorney General Greg Abbott quickly confirmed his plans to run for that job. That opened the gates, and the days between then and now have been filled with political news. Candidates are raising money, appearing at forums, hugging voters and kissing babies.

In some ways, the beginnings are still under way. Candidates can’t officially file for office until Nov. 9, and they have until a month after that to make their intentions officially known.

Democrats are still putting together their announcements. Davis of Fort Worth said this week that she would announce her plans Oct. 3; it would surprise many Democrats to hear anything other than the start of her run for governor. Fuzzy as that might seem, it’s the clearest peek into the Democratic playbook.

Others, like state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, are considering statewide runs in 2014, but none have anything official to say yet. Some announcements have been in the negative: Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio, after a political cotillion at the Democratic National Convention last year, seemed all dressed up for a statewide race. But he’s not running, telling reporters and others that he still has things to do as mayor and that he doesn’t think this is the right year for him.

On the Republican side, there are women in the races for U.S. Senate and for governor at this speculative point of the game, but neither is expected to slow the juggernauts John Cornyn and Abbott. Cornyn, the state’s senior U.S. senator, doesn’t have any well-known opponents yet in his race for re-election. The most serious threat to Abbott in the race for governor is the underfinanced Tom Pauken, the former state Republican Party chairman. If Linda Vega and Miriam Martinez are bona fide contenders in those two races, they have yet to reveal themselves.

The races for lieutenant governor and attorney general are empty on the Democratic side and stag parties on the Republican side. Debra Medina is interested in the race for comptroller if she can pull together the resources to be competitive. The only other nonjudicial statewide race with female Republican candidates is for the Texas Railroad Commission, and no front-runner has emerged from a field that so far includes seven Republicans.

Because the Democratic candidates have not lined up, it’s impossible to know right now whether they’ll have a similar male imbalance. Any advantage attributable to gender might be too small anyhow — the best performance by a statewide Democrat since 1994 was 49 percent and most results fell far short of that.

The election will be defined by the issues the top candidates choose to talk about, and gender could easily change the tenor of that debate.

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