Is Wendy Davis viable in the Texas Gov race?

When Wendy Davis finished her pink sneaker clad, 13 hour filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in Texas, she stepped immediately into the national spotlight, becoming a darling of the Left and the media in general. That sort of attention can be a heady brew to take in, so it’s not entirely shocking that she made the decision to attempt to parlay her fifteen minutes of fame into a shot at something bigger… in this case, the Governor’s mansion. But that filibuster and the associated issue of abortion are really the only card she had to play. Could that prove a winning formula in still-red Texas, though? Michael New, writing at The Corner, doesn’t seem to think so.

Wendy Davis’s recent entrance into the race for Texas governor has garnered national media attention. A few weeks ago, Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford authored a Politico op-ed claiming that Davis’s position on abortion will actually help her during her upcoming campaign. His primary argument involves polling data that purportedly shows significant percentages of moderates, suburbanites, and soft Republicans in Texas think abortion should be a “legal and personal choice.” Stanford also thinks that Davis’s abortion stance may help her win the votes of suburban Texas women. His argument is unpersuasive.

Political scientists know the results of abortion polls are very sensitive to the wording of the survey questions. The poll Stanford cites — which was clearly worded to bias respondents toward a “pro-choice” position — still showed that less than 35 percent of those in certain key demographic groups in Texas support legal abortion. Furthermore, Senator Davis’s chosen conduit into the national spotlight was her outspoken support for brutal late-term abortions — beyond the fifth and sixth month of gestation. This is something that is strongly opposed by most Americans, especially in a red state like Texas.

There’s not much to argue with in what Michael is saying here, but I think it goes a bit deeper than that. Davis could have stepped up to champion any of a number of liberal causes and done so with sufficient flare to catch the attention (SQUIRREL!) of the national media for a while. But winning the ratings battle in the cable news wars for a weekend is different than winning an election… particularly this election. In any large state there will be congressional districts, state senate and assembly seats which can be picked up by a Democrat even in an otherwise largely red area. But the Governor’s race is the same as a Senate seat or carrying the state in the Presidential race. You have to carry the whole state.. but is Texas any type of fertile ground for that?

We touched on this subject briefly while asking if Texas might be turning blue in the future. Davis might ring a few bells in particular demographic groups or urban areas, but that doesn’t add up to the type of numbers you need to carry Texas. The best recent example we could cite can be found in the answer to this question; how many of you remember the name Paul Sadler? If you’re scratching your head or pulling up Google in another browser tab right now you’re to be forgiven. Sadler was the Democrat candidate for the US Senate seat now occupied by Ted Cruz. There was only one race of interest in Texas last year in terms of that office and it was the primary. Nobody gave Sadler a shot, and he performed right down to expectations in a 56-40 blowout.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a Democrat out there somewhere who could win in Texas. But it would need to be somebody with a truly electrifying stage presence and a unique, cross brand appeal which could successfully scrap the current two party paradigm. It’s happened in other states to be sure. (Who thought New Jersey would elect a GOP Governor back to back in the 21st century?) But the question we need to ask is if Wendy Davis is that person. There’s little to suggest that she will wind up being much more than another Paul Sadler in the history books of Texas politics.