After three months of build up from excited Texas Democrats, abortion rights crusader State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) will announce today she is running for governor, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Davis, 50, has been considering a run ever since an 11 hour filibuster against an abortion restrictions bill which eventually was passed vaulted her into the spotlight, even getting her a congratulatory 'tweet' from President Obama.
But underneath the bluster, Mark Jones, a political analyst at Rice University who has no political affiliation, says nobody in the Democratic Party truly expects Davis to defeat well funded Republican Greg Abbot in next year's governor's race. He says her job is essentially to keep it close.
"Where Wendy Davis could have a major impact on Democratic politics in Texas would be to make this a very close race," Jones told 1200 WOAI news. "That would set the stage for a 2018 contest where you would see tons of Democratic money come into the state from outside, and the strong possibility of Democrats winning statewide races.
Jones doesn't see that happening in Texas in 2014, with Republicans holding a 3-1 registration edge, and Davis having to run against a Democratic President who is increasingly unpopular among Texans. He points out that historically, off-year elections have been bad for the party that holds the White House, and he says 2014 could be even worse for the Democrats.
"She is not going to win in 2014, if she runs a strong race, she could turn 2018 into a very competitive contest."
Jones also doesn’t see any of the Democrats who are expected to climb onto the Davis bandwagon, including State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who is considering a race for Lieutenant Governor, to prevail against well funded Republican candidates.
In order to mount a strong race, Davis will have to raise an estimated $40 million, and Jones says that could backfire on the Democrats. He says most of that money will have to be raised from out of state donors, who would otherwise send it to Democratic candidates in other states who have a much greater chance of winning. IN fact, he says Davis could indirectly cost Democrats control of the U.S. Senate, by siphoning off campaign contributions from vulnerable Democratic Senators fighting for re-election.
"Money that is spent here in Texas could be spent in very close states like Arkansas, Iowa, and West Virginia to help endangered Democrats there," he said. "That money could help Democrats maintain control of the Senate.
A Texas Lyceum poll out yesterday showed Abbott with a 27 to 21 percent edge, but showed 50 % of the public still undecided. But Jones says when you dig into the poll and separate the 'likely voters' from those who are almost certain not to vote in an off year race, you see Abbott leading by about 16 percentage points, which has been the general edge that Republicans have had in statewide races over the past twenty years.
He says barring a 'Clayton Williams' style campaign misstep, which Jones concedes that the disciplined and politically experienced Abbott is unlikely to make, there is no arithmetic that shows Davis winning the race for Texas governor.
But James Henson of the Texas Politics Institute at the University of Texas says this campaign is likely to get nasty, and personal.
"There is already a sense that gender politics are in the air, given the tone of the women's health debate, and given the early missteps of the Abbott campaign," Henson said, citing a Tweet by an Abbott supporter saying Davis is 'too stupid' to be governor.
"I don't think the fact that Wendy Davis is a woman makes her any less able to handle the campaign, and in a sense it creates some traps for Greg Abbott," Henson said.