Fourteen weeks and two days after Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis catapulted onto the national radar after a protracted fight against abortion restrictions, the Democrat announced her campaign for governor Thursday, emphasizing her commitment to education and job creation.
"We’re here because we want every child, no matter where they start in Texas, to receive a world-class education -- an education that can take them anywhere they want to go, so that success and opportunity is within reach of every single Texan and no one in this great state is ever forced to dream smaller instead of bigger," Davis said, speaking at the same venue in the Fort Worth suburb of Haltom City where she received her high school diploma decades ago.
Davis, 50, rose to national prominence in June with a filibuster against sweeping new abortion restrictions that spanned about 13 hours. The restrictions eventually passed and were signed into law, but the filibuster garnered Davis widespread attention on social media, and abortion rights advocates from across the country rallied to support her.
But it was a different filibuster Davis mentioned Thursday in her kickoff address. She singled out her 2011 fight against a GOP effort to cut education funding. "Though the cuts weren’t immediately restored, those voices grew and they grew until they could no longer be ignored and we were able to undo over $3 billion of that damage," she said.
The first major Democrat to jump into the gubernatorial race, Davis is expected to face an uphill climb in her campaign. While party strategists are optimistic about shifting demographics that could boost Democratic hopes in Texas in the coming years, the state hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1990. And the last time a Democrat was elected statewide was 1994.
Davis's biography and educational background have formed a big part of her public image. A single mother by 19, Davis went on to earn a law degree from Harvard, after attending a community college and getting a bachelor's degree from Texas Christian University.
After discussing her background Thursday, Davis told supporters she wasn't sharing her story "because it’s unique or special. I’m sharing it precisely because it's not. My whole life, I’ve seen Texans create promising tomorrows for themselves and their families. But I worry that the journey I made is a lot steeper for young people in Texas today."
Republican Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in state history, is not running for reelection in 2014. The front-runner to succeed him is Attorney General Greg Abbott, a well-funded pol with deep support from conservatives.
The likely general-election matchup between Abbott and Davis sets the stage for a showdown over abortion. Davis's outspoken advocacy of abortion rights will clash with Abbott's strict antiabortion posture.
In a Web video released hours before Davis's announcement, Abbott vowed to fight to for conservative values and indirectly took on Davis. While he didn't mention the Democrat by name, Abbott promised to fight President Obama and his "allies," signaling the coming Republican effort to tie Davis to the president and the national Democratic Party.
"As conservatives and as Texans, we must confront the challenges we face head-on," said Abbott.
A key question for Davis is whether she can raise enough money to compete in a state with several expensive media markets. Keeping pace with Abbott will be no small feat. While Davis flexed some fundraising muscle this summer, pulling in $900,000 in June, by the time Abbott announced his campaign in July, he had already amassed a war chest of about $20 million.
A recent poll conducted for the Texas Lyceum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, showed Abbott leading Davis 29 percent to 21 percent. Half of the voters polled said they “don’t know” who they will support.