WASHINGTON — Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis is running for Congress.
Early Monday morning, Davis announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in Central Texas' 21st District. She is challenging U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a freshman Republican from Austin.
She made her intentions known in a biographical video, narrated in part with archival footage from her late father, Jerry Russell.
"I'm running for Congress because people's voices are still being silenced," she said. "I'm running for our children and grandchildren, so they can live and love and fight for change themselves."
The potential Davis-Roy matchup is likely to be among the most polarizing races the state has seen in recent years. Davis is a fierce national advocate for abortion rights, while Roy has built his reputation in his first six months in Congress as a conservative firebrand.
Davis lives in Austin but spent much of her adult life in Fort Worth, where she served on the City Council and in the state Senate. In 2013, Davis became a national figure when she filibustered an omnibus anti-abortion bill. Later that fall, she announced her campaign for Texas governor. Despite strong fundraising, she lost to Republican Greg Abbott by over 20 percentage points.
"Even in losing, we helped shape the future," she said in the video.
Roy responded on Monday afternoon on Twitter.
"Wendy Davis’ radical & extreme views will no doubt excite the likes of Nancy Pelosi & other DC liberals," he wrote. "I will continue fighting for the hardworking families of
#Tx21 & the commonsense values that make Texas everything Washington is not. #Life, #Liberty, & #PursuitOfHappiness."
In a Monday interview with the Tribune, Davis was emphatic that she would win this race and stressed that she would take a bipartisan approach to the prospect of serving in Congress.
She also stressed an intent to "work to end divisiveness and to create the kind of unity that really helps to solve problems."
"I have a reputation of doing that in the Texas Senate," she added.
She brought up education, the environment, health care and reducing the cost of prescription drugs and preserving social security as the issues she would prioritize in this race.
After moving to Austin several years ago, Davis started an organization called Deeds Not Words, campaigned around the country for Hillary Clinton and remained involved in state and national politics. Earlier this year, she mulled a run for U.S. Senate. National Democrats anticipate she will be a powerhouse fundraiser.
Davis declined to ballpark how much money she intends to raise for this race.
"I can't put a dollar figure on it, but I know we're going to need sufficient resources to get our message out there," she said.
As for Roy, he had a healthy second fundraising quarter this year, raising over $400,000 and reporting over $650,000 in cash on hand. He is a longtime fixture in Texas Republican politics, serving as a staffer to both U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and state Attorney General Ken Paxton. In his first six months in Congress, he has had a knack for upending legislative procedure.
The 21st District begins in Austin, taking in neighborhoods on the south and southwest sides of town. It then runs south along the western side of Interstate 35 into San Antonio's northern neighborhoods and into Alamo Heights. It then juts out west into the Hill Country, taking in Fredericksburg and Kerrville.
The House GOP campaign arm responded soon after Davis' announcement.
“It’s beyond parody that Wendy Davis is attempting to make her political comeback in a district she lost by 20 points last time around," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Bob Salera. "Texans resoundingly rejected Davis and her socialist agenda 5 years ago, and will do so again in 2020.”
The district's previous incumbent, former U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, easily carried the seat to a Republican victory. In his final race in 2016, he won reelection by 21 points. But in that same year, Hillary Clinton outperformed President Barack Obama's previous margins. In 2018, Democrat Joseph Kopser came within three points of Roy.
Davis isn't alone in seeking to challenge Roy. Llano County Democratic Chairwoman Jennie Lou Leeder and educator Bruce Boville are among Democratic candidates who have filed Federal Election Commission finance reports. But there is little doubt that Davis will have the backing of important state and national Democrats. On Tuesday, nearly every member of House Democratic leadership and nine members of the Texas delegation will host a reception in Washington, D.C., for the newly announced candidate.
Inside Elections, a campaign analyst group, currently rates this race "likely Republican."
Republicans publicly and privately reacted to the Davis campaign with jubilation, given her disappointing performance in 2014. She shrugged it off.
"That's typical D.C. noise," she said. "It doesn't surprise me at all, but again, we're going to win because we're going to talk about issues that matter, plain and simple."