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Davis Tiptoes Around Shutdown in First Campaign Stop

State Sen. Wendy Davis, a newly minted candidate for governor, has hit the road. Davis went to Waxahachie, a traditionally Republican area south of Dallas, where she tiptoed around the issue of the ongoing government shutdown.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, announces her candidacy for governor on Oct. 3, 2013, in Haltom City.

WAXAHACHIE — State Sen. Wendy Davis, in her first campaign swing as a candidate for governor, said Saturday that Texans are sick and tired of the bickering in Washington, D.C. — but she wouldn’t take sides in the ongoing government shutdown.

“People don’t want to see us getting into those kinds of squabbles,” Davis said when asked who should be blamed for the shutdown. “They want to see us doing the work that we’ve been elected to do. And Texas, I think, has done a better job of that. I know people don’t want to see us be Washington, D.C.”

Davis declined to say whether she agrees with congressional Democrats that the way to end the shutdown is to vote quickly on a measure to re-open the government with no strings attached. Republicans are trying to force President Obama to negotiate with them over delaying or making changes to the Affordable Care Act before agreeing to legislation to fund government operations.

“I’m in the camp that people should come together and find bipartisan solutions. That’s been my track record in the Texas Senate,” Davis said. “I hope that our leaders in Washington on both sides of the aisle will come to the table and find a way to do the important work they’ve been elected to do.”

Davis’ most likely Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, expressed support for the GOP drive to defund Obamacare before the shutdown but wouldn’t say if withholding government funding for the budget was a good strategy for accomplishing that goal. Now that there is a shutdown, Abbott campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch pointed the finger at the White House.

“Greg Abbott believes this is a failure of leadership,” Hirsch said in a written statement Saturday. “The president must lead and he should be working to solve the problem, not acting like a partisan cheerleader. When there is gridlock, the chief executive must step up with solutions, not a stiff-arm.”

Davis announced her campaign for governor in Haltom City, a suburb of Fort Worth, on Thursday. On Saturday, she hit the road and made heavily Republican Ellis County her first stop.

Stressing the importance that education will play in her campaign, Davis met with a handful of teachers at El Mexicano Grill & Cantina near the picturesque courthouse in Waxahachie, about 45 minutes south of Dallas. Over coffee, the teachers told Davis budget cuts had forced them to deal with larger class sizes and less help for special needs children. 

Davis noted she had filibustered a school finance bill in 2011 to protest deep budget cuts and promised to fight for more funding if she’s elected governor. 

After meeting with the educators, Davis was driven a couple of blocks over to the Ellis County Democratic Party headquarters, where volunteers were making phone calls on her behalf. Battleground Texas, the group led by former Obama operatives who are trying to make conservative Texas more hospitable to Democrats, took advantage of the event to sign up volunteers.

Davis said the jaunt to a traditionally “red” area on her first campaign outing demonstrates her commitment to reach beyond the Democratic base in the hunt for votes. 

“We want to hear from voices all over the state of Texas, and this campaign is about including all those voices,” she said. “That means going everywhere, having conversations with folks, not writing anyone off because of their partisanship.”

Nancy Cannaday, chairwoman of the Ellis County Democratic Party, described the county as 70-30 in favor of Republicans but she said “there’s a lot of closet Democrats” and that Davis would give them a reason to come out and vote for her in November 2014.

Davis has not released a schedule of her upcoming events, but she indicated that she would be traveling all around the state to drum up support for her campaign. She said she was looking forward in particular to traveling to some of the places where she lived as a child, including Muleshoe and El Paso.

Later Saturday she is scheduled to attend the Austin City Limits music festival. Her campaign initially said Davis would introduce the Kings of Leon band, but later a spokesman said the introduction was "tentative" based on Davis' schedule. 

Top Davis aides say the biggest hurdle will be raising the money needed to compete with Abbott, the GOP front-runner, who had more than $20 million in the bank at last count. In emails sent to supporters Friday night, Davis indicated she had raised almost $500,000 in a post-announcement fundraising drive.

Her campaign could not immediately say if she had met or exceeded that goal.

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Politics 2014 elections Greg Abbott Wendy Davis