State senator whose 11-hour filibuster against restrictive abortion legislation made her a celebrity will stand in 2014
Wendy Davis is set to run for Texas governor, in a race that could have wide-ranging consequences for Democrats at both national and state level.
The state senator from Fort Worth became an overnight celebrity in June, as a result of her 11-hour filibuster against restrictive new abortion legislation. The bill ultimately passed in a special session of the state legislature, but Davis's stance galvanised people on both sides of the debate and led to large rallies and protests at the Texas state capitol in Austin.
Davis has been mulling over whether to run for several months, but delayed announcing her decision following the death of her father earlier this month. She will formally reveal her decision on 3 October.
"A week today, I'm announcing something big," she wrote today on Twitter. The Associated Press reported that Davis will run, citing two unnamed Democrats with knowledge of her decision. Politico and the Dallas Morning News reported that Davis and her advisors have begun telling influential Democrats that she will stand.
The pink trainers the 50-year-old wore for her marathon speaking session became a symbol for women's rights activists. Democrats urged her to continue the momentum by announcing a bid to succeed Rick Perry as Texas governor. The Republican former presidential hopeful, who has been in office since 2000, is standing down after the election in November 2014.
No Texas Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994, the year George W Bush ousted the most recent Democratic governor, Ann Richards. In the 2010 vote, Perry easily defeated the Democratic candidate, Bill White, a former mayor of Houston. Perry won 55.1% of the vote to White's 42.4%.
Those are indicators of the daunting task facing Davis. She is likely to be up against Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general, who confirmed in July that he is seeking the Republican nomination. A staunch conservative, Abbott has a campaign war chest reportedly in excess of $20m.
Right-wingers have not held back from criticising or insulting Davis, long before it was apparent she would try for governor. Last month, Abbott was drawn into a controversy and backtracked after he – apparently unwittingly –thanked a supporter on Twitter who described Davis as a "retard Barbie".
"The stakes are incredibly high," Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, told the Guardian. "I can't think there is any real doubt whatsoever that she's going to lose. But how she performs could have dramatic consequences for the future of partisan politics in Texas and therefore the nation at large." Democrats have long dreamed of reclaiming Texas. As the second-most populous state in the US, it has 38 electoral college votes, behind only California. "If Texas turns blue, the presidency turns blue," said Jones.
Future demographic trends are likely to mean an increasing number of Democratic voters in Texas. In the short-term, Democrats will hope that Davis's high profile will boost their influence, even if she loses. Thanks to the apparent futility of the task, Democratic candidates in Texas have suffered from a lack of funds in past elections, among other problems.
A disappointing result for Davis would be a heavy setback for Democrats, given the resources and nationwide attention she is sure to attract. However, a surprise victory or even a narrow loss could have a significant impact on the political landscape in subsequent elections.
"There could be a virtuous circle to her performance where she wins 46% or 47% of the vote. That sends the signal to national donors that Texas is in play. It sends a message to local donors to keep their money at home," said Jones.