DES MOINES — It's been more than a year since Wendy Davis resoundingly lost her Texas gubernatorial bid, and since then, the former state senator has — save for a few high-profile interviews — mostly retreated into private life.
But she was no political afterthought in a Democratic-leaning Des Moines neighborhood called Beaverdale on Friday. Here, on the stump for presidential contender Hillary Clinton, Davis remains a hero.
Iowa state Sen. Janet Petersen introduced Davis on the first of seven stops over a two-day Iowa trek, recalling a bedtime story she told her son about a "brave woman from Texas."
"We learned about catheters, and we learned about running shoes," Petersen said, referencing Davis' 2013 filibuster against Texas' strict abortion regulations.
But while her audience might have been interested in reliving Davis' past, Davis focused her appearances on getting Clinton supporters to do more than attend rallies.
“It’s fine that the polls show we have a candidate who’s ahead. That’s great,” Davis said of Clinton, speaking to a few dozen Beaverdale attendees, most of them women. “But it all comes to who shows up election day, right?”
“And we truly can’t let our foot off the gas," she added. "We’ve got to make sure every last call is made. Every last door is knocked. Every person who might take for granted that even if Hillary is their candidate ... she won’t win if they don’t come and make sure that that happens.“
Davis' task on this trip was to gin up excitement among Democratic activists and abortion rights supporters for Clinton 45 days out from the Iowa caucuses. And at every one of her events — even without Clinton in tow — a predominantly female crowd ate Davis up.
While Clinton is on track to win the Iowa caucuses, there is a palpable focus to avoid complacency in her campaign, for no other obvious reason than memories of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s better-organized campaign winning Iowa in 2008.
Davis took her first trip to Iowa to stress this urgency. Because Clinton cannot be everywhere on the campaign trail at once, her campaign enlists well-known celebrities and political figures to serve as "surrogates" who can draw a crowd in their own right and make the case for her.
Before Davis came to Iowa, "Scandal" television star Tony Goldwyn and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean were on the circuit.
On this week's trip, Davis was a long way from home and a long way from her 2014 gubernatorial bid. She brought no entourage and came well-versed in Clinton's policy proposals. No matter the questions or comments directed her way, she managed to weave Clinton and her policies into her answers.
At a Thursday evening event in Davenport, phone-banking tables were so jammed ahead of Davis’ arrival that many volunteers sat in folding chairs clutching call sheets and dialing on their cellphones.
When Davis entered the room, one by one the calls came to an end and volunteers stared at her. It was clear: This group of Clinton supporters had turned out on a sub-freezing night to see Davis, not to make calls.
“Do you want me to take questions?” she asked after her remarks. Then, turning to the campaign staffer in charge, she asked, “Or are you anxious for everybody to get back on the phone?” The volunteers opted instead to take photos with Davis.
Most of the Iowans who turned out to see Davis this week fell into two categories: baby boomers and young women.
The older women who came out to see her were generally in the tank for Clinton. Most were already campaign volunteers.
“I got up early to do this, and got the dog out for his walk early,” said Susan Young, a semi-retired landlord who came to a Cedar Rapids coffee house event on Friday.
But at Davis events on college campuses, young fans weren't solely on Team Hillary. Homemaker Toni Wood said she learned through her husband about a Thursday Davis event at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Davis, she said, is a longtime “idol,” but Wood didn't rule out voting for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
"She made me lean more toward Hillary," Wood said after meeting Davis. "But I just a feel pull toward Bernie that I'm maybe not feeling for Hillary."
Everywhere Davis went, Clinton staffers were there with bumper stickers, campaign pins and contact cards. At times, the staffers' encouragement of attendees to fill out the cards bordered on forcible.
And Davis clearly understood her role.
At her last stop, she singled out a male volunteer named Carlos for bringing in "five commit cards." The room roared with applause.