The question facing Texas Democrats is: can Wendy Davis overcome two decades of Republican domination to win a statewide race for governor?
That’s the big IF for not just the Democrats, but Davis herself. She says she’ll decide by around Labor Day, which falls this year on Sept. 2, whether she’ll run for governor or re-election.
We sometimes see cases of “Senatoritis” — when one of the 31 state senators runs for statewide office.
A state senator is used to being a big deal in their own senatorial district. They’re told by staff members and state bureaucrats, and especially lobbyists, that the wellbeing of Texas might grind to a halt but for them.
Sometimes a politician goes directly from the Legislature to statewide office. Republican Todd Staples to Agriculture Commissioner in 2006. Democratic state Sen. John Sharp to the Texas Railroad Commission in 1986. Republican state Rep. Rick Perry to Agriculture Commissioner in 1990. Democratic state Rep. Dan Morales won for attorney general in 1990.
(Yes, Perry and Morales House were state representatives, not senators. But we include House members in the Senatoritis category, because it would sound goofy to say “Representativitis.”)
But often, the legislator finds out how big Texas really is, and how few of its citizens outside his or her district have ever heard of them. Senators, after all, represent 1/31st of the state’s 26 million people. House members represent 1/150th.
That’s why money is so important in building name identification – unless you have a name already made famous by someone else, like former state Treasurer Warren G. Harding, or former Gov. George W. Bush, who also used his to follow Dad into the presidency.
Wendy Davis may have wired around the Senatoritis dilemma.
Through a combination of hard work, straightforward courage and determination, and organization, and considerable financial help, the former Fort Worth City Council member unseated incumbent Republican state Sen. Kim Brimer, a veteran of six years in a Fort Worth Senate district after 14 in the House.
In 2012, she won re-election with 51.1 percent, over Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton, in a district which every Republican running statewide carried by at least 56 percent.
She obviously has some crossover appeal. And that’s what Democrats hope can continue statewide.
The reason they think she’s a possibility to re-energize the moribund Texas Democratic Party is that she serendipitously jumped over the name ID hurdle – not just in Texas, but nationally and internationally.
Her 11-hour filibuster that helped delay an anti-abortion bill, with the help of orange-clad opponents to the bill shouting down the Senate until just after a midnight deadline, became a social-media sensation around the nation and world.
She was suddenly catapulted into the national consciousness as a hot political property. The name “Wendy” may now be associated more with the petite blonde than with a hamburger.
She’s been the subject of long profile articles in publications like Vogue and the New York Times, telling her single-momto Harvard Law saga.
When she spoke at a National Press Club luncheon, the hosts had to move to a larger ballroom because of the demand.
In San Francisco, she was the keynote speaker to more than 300 women at a luncheon hosted by Emily’s List, the organization that raises money for pro-choice Democratic women politicians.
Battleground Texas, headed by veterans of Barack Obama’s election and re-election team now seeking to turn Texas Blue, are using Wendy as an organizational tool. They’re sending out free “I Want Wendy” bumper stickers to people who sign a petition encouraging her to run. Without having to go out and beg, more than a million dollars has flowed into her campaign bankroll, whether it be for governor or for re-election as senator.
And that’s the difficult choice she faces.
This spring, after last year’s redistricting, she was among the 15 senators who drew a two-year term, rather than the 16 who drew a four-year term, to return the Senate to staggered four-year terms to the Senate.
Should she seek re-election in a Republican leaning senate district, and try to continue as the safety margin in that body to keep the Republicans from running over the Democrats even more than they have?
Or should she give up the Senate, take on the uphill Red-State challenge, and seek to become the first Democratic governor elected since Ann Richards in 1990. In a party with no coattails and dried-up grassroots, against Republican Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, who already has a bankroll of more than $20 million?
Can she provide the coattails as the partybuilding magnet for other credible candidates for the rest of the Democratic ticket?
Because if she does run for governor and wins, it’s a whole new ballgame in Texas – and the nation.
DAVE McNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at email@example.com or (512)458-2963.