Wendy Davis raised $12 million. That means less than you think.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis announced Tuesday night that she had raised $12 million for her gubernatorial campaign -- $8.7 million for her campaign and another $3+ million for several affiliated committee -- a sum that created much rejoicing in Democratic circles.


Texas Sen. Wendy Davis speaks at an education roundtable meeting in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Davis, the presumptive Democratic nominee for Texas governor, unveiled education proposals at the North Texas meeting. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

"Senator Davis has rocketed past the credibility threshold for her candidacy; she’s a fighter, a leader, and the future Governor that Texans deserve," said Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa.

Make no mistake: $12 million is a ton of money. (It's roughly $12 million more than we have ever raised.) But, Davis $12 million haul is actually a bit less than meets the eye. Here's why.

1. There was never a question of whether Davis would be able to raise money.  In fact, it's the one thing that all sides agreed on when she decided to run. Her status as a hero to liberals nationally -- due to her filibuster against an abortion law in the state -- meant that she entered the race with a national fundraising base that few other candidates for governor could hope to have.  Davis still had to go out and raise the money but she started at a very good place to do that successfully.

2. Greg Abbott continues to rake in cash.  Fundraising numbers always benefit from context. While Davis brought in $12.2 million, Abbott, the state attorney general and near-certain Republican nominee, collected $11.5 million. That's barely a difference. And, Abbott, who has been angling to run for governor for years, now has $27 million on hand for the race.  While Davis has yet to release her cash on hand figure, it's likely to be in the high single digits or low double digits. Let's say it's $9 million; she is still at a three to one deficit to Abbott in terms of what she has to spend on the race.

3. Texas has virtually no regulations on donations.  Davis' campaign touted that she received 84,000 small dollar donations over the final six months of 2013 -- and we believe her. But Texas is one of the states with the most lax campaign laws in the country, meaning that the fundraising numbers reported by the candidates are more likely to be eye-popping since a single individual can write a seven-figure check.

Davis' real challenge in this race is not to raise lots of money -- she will do that.  Instead it is to demonstrate that she can move beyond abortion and the hero status it has brought to her among liberals nationally to issues like education, immigration and the economy that are of far more import to Texas voters. If Davis runs on her star status on abortion rights, she loses, a fact her campaign -- including well regarded manager Karin Johanson -- are well aware of. This early fundraising success is indicative of how her star status nationally can make her viable. Now she has to move beyond it to have any real chance at winning.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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