Why Wendy Davis should run for governor of Texas

September 18, 2013

Note: We originally posted this item on Aug. 6. We are resurfacing it today amid the news that Sen. Davis appears to be on the verge of announcing a run for governor. We'll also re-post our item looking at the reasons why Davis shouldn't run for governor. 

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) has narrowed her plans for the next election down to two choices.


Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“I can say with absolute certainty that I will run for one of two offices, either my state Senate seat or the governor,” Davis said Monday at an appearance in Washington.

There's a case to be made that Davis, who became a national figure after a marathon filibuster of abortion legislation, should take the plunge and run for the state's top job. There's also a strong argument  that she should stay put, for the sake of her political future.

So we'll present both arguments, and let you decide which way you think she should go.

Below, we make the case for why Davis should run for governor. Later, we'll present an argument that she should stay put.

* Strike when the iron is hot: It wasn't too long ago that Davis was a largely unknown state senator with a reputation in some quarters for rankling her Republican colleagues. These days, she is a national figure, beloved by liberals and derided by conservatives. Since politics is a world in constant flux -- one day you're a star, the next you are nobody -- Davis should capitalize on her new-found fame with a statewide bid. Through earned media alone, Davis has boosted her name recognition to a level that would normally cost millions of dollars in advertising. Who's to say whether anyone will know or care about what she is doing in two, four, six or eight years? She's a household name right now, and is arguably never going to find a more natural jumping off point for a gubernatorial campaign.

* $$$: Davis has built a strong fundraising base. She pulled in more than $900,000 in June, an impressive figure for a state legislator. In a huge state like Texas with several expensive media markets, money is half the battle. You can't drop millions to go on the air in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas? Then you can't hang in a statewide race. It's clear that Davis would have money if she runs in 2014. What's more, since abortion has moved to the forefront of the national political conversation, Davis can count on a steady flow of money from across the country. And to echo our point above, it's not clear how that would be the case in the years to come.

* Julian Castro is waiting in the wings. Davis is getting a lot of attention right now because of her high-profile abortion fight against Gov. Rick Perry (R). But the real rising Democratic star in the state is San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. It's no secret that Castro is eyeing a gubernatorial run at some point in the future, in 2018 (he will hit his term limit in 2017) or beyond. A growing Latino population in Texas has stoked Democrats' hopes to turn the state blue or at least purple in the coming years. But it's not going to happen overnight. And Castro, who is only 38, knows this. He is biding his time and will try to make a move at a more ideal moment. What that means for Davis is that 2014 may be something of a now-or-never moment when it comes to running for governor. She'd have a tough time in a primary against Castro, and it's not clear whether she'd even run against him. There are no obvious Democratic contenders now, which means that if Davis runs, she would probably cruise to the nomination.

* Democrats think they can hold Davis's seat. A prolonged battle over the shape of Davis's Tarrant County district came to an end this year when Republicans ended their attempt to redraw its boundaries in their favor. "It is reasonable for Democrats to run for that seat," said Matt Angle, a Davis supporter and informal adviser. The idea is that Davis won't be leaving Democrats hanging after a high-stakes battle to preserve her district if she decides to leave and run for governor, forcing another Democrat to run in her place. (Of course, from the perspective of Davis's own political survival, she might be wiser to stay in her seat, now that it is no longer under threat. We will expand on that argument in our forthcoming post on why Davis shouldn't run for governor.)

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · September 18, 2013