Just eight months after Texas Senator Wendy Davis stood in her pink tennis shoes for 11 hours in a filibuster against the GOP’s new abortion legislature that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, regulate first-trimester abortions and access to medication-induced abortions, she has rocketed to stardom and earned herself the Democratic nomination for governor.
The question, now, is whether or not she will be able beat out her opponent, Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in one of the “reddest” states in the Union.
According to Politifact.com, in 2012, San Antonio Rep. Joaquin Castro, while speaking at a Texas Tribune Festival, said, “We are the state that has now gone the longest without electing a Democrat statewide. It has been since 1994 that a Democrat has been elected in Texas.”
A recent poll conducted by the Emerson College Polling Society (ECPS) over the period of March 7 to March 12, showed Davis’ growing favorability. Abbott led in the poll by only seven points, 49 percent to 42 percent, 4 percent less than the 11-point lead Abbott had in the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune poll conducted at the end of February. It is a long way to November and Davis may still have a chance.
“She’s certainly facing an uphill battle in Texas,” said Alex Day, an SMU junior and psychology major, “but I think her ability to appeal to middle-class women and other minorities who have felt increasingly excluded by the current Republican leadership makes her a viable challenger.”
Like Day, many believe Davis may have what it takes to win the Hispanic population and the crossover vote of women, and it looks as if she is on the right track. With her platform based around her story of starting from the bottom and working her way up, Davis’ message is clearly targeting independent women.
Republicans and the media alike have criticized Davis of skewing the truth of her life story, after The Dallas Morning News’ Wayne Slater wrote a story noting several inconsistencies. To some these twisted facts may show a desperate attempt to gain voter support, but for others they are minimal and the affect of Davis’ story will nonetheless attract the desired audience — women who care about education, women’s health care and equal pay.
“I remember being so inspired by her message,” said Day, who heard Senator Davis speak at SMU before she came into the spotlight. “She fights for public education, equal pay legislation, and access to health care; these are the issues that matter to Texas women and families.”
Davis is not only attempting to appeal to independent Texas women, but also quietly to the conservative, white women as well, an act that has been done before by former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. According to a Dallas Observer blog by Jim Schutze, Davis is a Miller-like candidate. He writes that she has the chance, due to her blonde hair, pearls and ability to “fit in” with Texas’ white elites, to win over the wives of staunch Texas Republicans who would not know much about what she actually stands for, just as Miller did.
He goes on, however, to point out that Davis might have a harder time than Miller getting the two votes she needs most: Hispanics and conservative women. First off, Davis is blonde, which could be a turn-off for the Hispanic population, but her looks are just a small problem for Davis. An article in The New York Times, “Democrats See Value in Texas in Candidacy for Governor,” reveals the challenge for the Senator: “Mark P. Jones, chairman of political science at Rice University, said the two demographic groups that Ms. Davis needs most, white women and Hispanics, disagree with her by wide margins on the issue she is best known for: opposition to a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.”
“Wendy Davis came to public attention as an advocate of abortion rights, but that is not an issue you want to highlight in a Texas campaign,” said Cal Jillson, a SMU political science professor. “She will want women to know her position on choice, but she will not want to highlight that issue in her campaign.”
Jillson went on to note that her recent focus on equal pay should be more effective with women, but he feels there is not much in Davis’ campaign, or her image, as Schutze pointed out, to inspire Hispanic voters.
“Davis will do fine with women — probably a little better than the Democratic norm in Texas — but I suspect that she will struggle with Hispanics,” said Matthew Wilson, a fellow political science professor at SMU. “Ultimately, a white Anglo woman from North Texas who made her political reputation as a defender of late-term abortion is not exactly tailor-made to connect with Latinos.”
Hispanics are usually more conservative on social issues, such as abortion, than other Americans, found a 2012 study by Pew Research on Hispanic trends. According to the study, 51 percent of Hispanics say abortion should be illegal in almost all cases, compared to the 41 percent of the general public.
This is partly due to the high number of immigrants in the Hispanic community, who come to the U.S. and bring their strong Catholic beliefs with them. Nevertheless, with the Hispanic population in Texas being one of the most important demographics in the upcoming gubernatorial vote, Davis needs to find a way to ensure their vote, if she hopes to win this uphill battle.
The ECPS poll, though encouraging for Davis, showed that Abbott still has a slight lead among independents and women. Forty-two percent of independents support Abbott, 40 percent support Davis and 17 percent are undecided. As to the women, 46 percent are still more likely to vote for Abbott than Davis with 42 percent. The gap is narrowing — for now.
“Wendy Davis’ chances of winning are slim,” said Jillson. “Over the past two decades, Democratic candidates running statewide have lost by 12 to 16 points. Davis might do a bit better, but I suspect she will lose by seven to one points.”
For many young women and students, Senator Davis still holds a promise for change.
“She’s exciting and knows how to energize the base,” said Lauren Henson, an SMU student. “Bill White was the last candidate and honestly he was boring. It helps that she’s a woman and has an interesting story, and a lot of people find her relatable.”