AUSTIN, Texas — When Wendy Davis walks into the coliseum where she received her high school diploma on Thursday to announce a bid to become Texas governor, she will also walk onto a national stage from which she’ll call on Democrats from across the country to help finance her long-shot bid.
The state senator staged a nearly 13-hour filibuster in June to stop a law imposing strict new restrictions on how, where and when a woman can obtain an abortion. The live stream of her standing next to her desk and speaking – and the roaring crowd that disrupted the Senate debate for the last 15 minutes of the special legislative session – made her a political celebrity. In the following weeks, Democratic fundraisers feted her at parties in Washington, New York and San Francisco.
But the question remains: In a year where Democrats risk losing control of the Senate – and with Davis’ opponent already banking $25 million – will national donors commit the resources she needs to win?
“That’s the biggest hurdle she’s going to face,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Houston’s Rice University. “The investment to be successful in Texas would be the same as the investment to be successful in a half-dozen of the most competitive Senate races.”
Campaign consultants agree the Democratic candidate and supporting political action committees will need to spend $40 million to mount a serious challenge to the leading Republican, Attorney General Greg Abbott. That’s about 40 times more than what Davis had on hand at the end of June, the latest information available.
No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994, but supporters say the single teenage mother turned successful Harvard-trained lawyer has the charisma and progressive politics to break the party’s political drought in Texas – and possibly put the state in play for the 2016 presidential election.
Davis will need to go outside of Texas to raise a portion of the money she needs. She has strong national fundraising ability, which will be necessary to help establish her still largely ill-defined credentials through television advertisements, Democratic strategist Tad Devine said. Democratic activists argue she will have the money, but it’s up to her campaign to make the case that she can govern.
“She has a pretty compelling profile to raise a lot of money from very wealthy people,” Devine said. “If she can muster that kind of campaign funding, she can project herself as she chooses, but that will be mostly through television.”
Danny Kanner, communications director for the Democratic Governors’ Association, said there is sustained interest in Davis.
“Everything that Democrats across the country have seen so far is that Davis has the path, she has the message and she will have the organization,” he said.