Boil down Chris Cillizza’s Fix piece this morning, and Wendy Davis’ bad week matters because what she really needs to do is run a creditable campaign that helps Democrats become competitive again in Texas.
There’s some truth to that. Democrats haven’t won statewide in Texas in a very long time. The odds of Wendy Davis winning have always been long. Their 2010 governor nominee, Bill White, was about as credible a candidate as they have fielded. The energy executive and former Houston mayor managed to run a mostly not awful campaign, but never really came close to unseating Rick Perry. It didn’t help that, like many Democrats, White had an anti-gun past he had to run away from. White had signed on with Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Bad move. He might as well have tried to ban BBQ and high school football.
Wendy Davis is not Bill White, and the GOP’s likely nominee, Greg Abbott, is not Rick Perry. Both of those are bad things for the Democrats.
White at least did not rise to fame by filibustering to defend late-term abortion and keeping abortion clinics less regulated than most Texans believe they should be. He never really rose to fame at all, but once he was the Democrats’ nominee, he presented a credible alternative. Perry, the Democrat turned Republican that the media and Democrats love to belittle, tore Bill White to shreds and beat him 55% to 42%. Texas roadsides are littered with Democrats who thought little of Perry and tried to beat him.
Perry, for all his policy virtues, has been in office long enough to have built up considerable fatigue. Democrats and the media mock him and a couple of his gaffes make that task easier. Abbott and his GOP primary rival Tom Pauken* are both veterans of Texas politics and are not gaffe-prone. Presuming Abbott prevails in the primary, he brings a strong, conservative record as attorney general and a menacing $27 million campaign war chest to the general election. Abbott will be backed by a GOP that has become an organizational power again under chairman Steve Munisteri (disclosure: I worked at the Texas GOP under its last three chairmen, including Mr. Munisteri). Abbott speaks well in speeches and in interviews and can debate as well as anyone. He is formidable, yet friendly and even inspiring.
Ever since Ann Richards, Texas Democrats have attacked their Republican rivals with a mix of disdain and insults. That hasn’t really worked for them and it won’t work on Abbott at all. Abbott also ticks all the issue boxes for a majority of Texans — pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-border security, pro-Second Amendment, anti-taxes, anti-Washington — while Davis has to convince enough Texans that she isn’t just another creature of the national Democrats. That will be difficult, because that’s exactly what she is. Davis has to create some distance between herself and the Obama-created Battleground Texas group to be viable, while depending on the same group for the bulk of her organizational muscle. That’s no easy task, and so far Davis just doesn’t look like she’s up to it. If she can’t finesse her own campaign, how can she present herself as a plausible governor of the nation’s second most populous state?