Sen. Wendy Davis made her decision. At the end of the 83rd regular session of the Texas legislature, Sen. Davis' own press release stated:
[Sen. Wendy Davis] is seeking re-election in 2014.
Normally, that would be the end of that. But, after the abnormally collegial regular session, everything changed. When Governor Perry bent to the will of his party's social conservatives and made regulating women's healthcare a priority in the special session, Sen. Davis became the last roadblock between the bill and final passage. After her filibuster for women's health, Sen. Davis' name ID has skyrocketed, she has become a feminist hero, her fundraising has accelerated, and new life and energy has been injected into the Texas Democratic Party.
Sen. Davis' newfound stardom has lead to calls from supporters and activists across the state for her to abandon her bid for re-election to the Texas Senate and to instead try for something larger, at a statewide level.
After the jump this entry will take a look at the options Sen. Davis has, should she choose to re-evaluate her election decision in 2014.Re-election to the Texas Senate
The first option that must be answered is “Should Sen. Davis seek re-election to the Texas Senate?” After every redistricting year, Texas Senators draw lots to determine during which election cycle their district will be up for election. Previously, Sen. Davis' Senate District 10 (SD 10) had been up for election during presidential contests, but for this decade, SD 10 will be up during gubernatorial election years. This means that if Senator Davis wanted to seek statewide office she would not return to the Texas Senate in 2015. Leaving her current office would be a gamble of high risk and high reward. Should she win, she would be more powerful than ever before and it would truly be the turning point Democrats have been working towards for years. However, if she lost, it could mean the end of her political career; it's not often you see a candidate lose a bid for office and still be relevant years later. In SD 10, Sen. Davis is well known and respected, the necessary fundraising would be less of a challenge, the electorate is more favorable to Democrats than the state as a whole, and it has been proven winnable in the past. Seeking re-election would not send Tarrant County Democrats into a scramble to find a new, unproven candidate for SD 10, and, should a Republican win SD 10, it would mean only one Senate Democrat would have to be absent or defect for the Republicans to pass whatever they please out of the upper chamber.
However, if you are supposed to strike while the iron is hot, it may never be hotter than right now. Sen. Davis is fresh in the minds of Texas voters and the enthusiasm to work on her behalf among the rank-and-file is currently the equivalent of lightning in a bottle. If Sen. Davis wants to wait for 2018 or until the next decade where she might draw a different lot for the year she would seek re-election, this level of enthusiasm may dissipate. Further, she is viewed by many Democratic activists as the de-facto head of the party right now. If she ran for a statewide office, other high profile Democrats may be likely to follow and vacate their safe legislative seats on a similar gamble based on her example and inspiration. So, if she were to decide to run statewide, there are three high-profile offices she could pursue.
It's the top job. You are the leader of the state and of your party. Who wouldn't want this job? Wendy Davis for Governor has been the primary call everyone has heard ever since she rocketed into stardom. From here, she would be, without question, the person leading the charge against the Texas Republican Party and would dictate the direction of the Democratic party's platform and how to engage. For those that want Sen. Davis to be the face of the Texas Democratic Party, this is the office you want to see her seek in 2014. It would give Texas Democrats a credible candidate for the top job and someone with enough force and respect to get Attorney General Abbott to answer some questions about what he stands for and to be held accountable for his extreme record as Attorney General.
However, the top spot would also land her against what could be viewed as her toughest possible opponent. Attorney General Greg Abbott finished in the last fundraising quarter with over $20 million in the bank. While many Democrats celebrated, hearing Sen. Davis raised just under $1 million, it does put into perspective how big of a disadvantage she currently has in terms of fundraising for a gubernatorial race. While Attorney General Abbott will hold the same extreme agenda as Governor Perry, to the state as a whole, there is nothing that currently distinguishes him from a generic Republican. For a state that currently votes reflexively for the Republican Party, a smoking gun must be revealed to disqualify Greg Abbott from holding the office of Governor in the minds of the Texas voters.
The dynamics of this race could not be better for Sen. Davis. Currently, there are four Republicans seeking the office of Lieutenant Governor: Incumbent David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and State Senator Dan Patrick. The Republican primary for this race will likely lead to a runoff where each candidate will try to out-conservative the other and the statements from each campaign will be more bombastic than the last. If there's a possibility of finding a smoking gun to disqualify a Republican candidate for higher office in the minds of Texas voters, this is where it's going to be. The dynamics of the race would play especially well for Sen. Davis if she were to run against Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst who can be described as the person who ran Senate tradition into the ground to pass divisive legislation to further his own career, or Sen. Patrick who could be described as unlikeable and extreme by members of his own party. Further, after a divisive, extended primary, this race would lead to all Republicans depleting their cash reserves, putting our candidates on equal financial footing.
It is still a statewide race and three of the four candidates on the Republican ticket have a record of previously winning statewide. Further, would Democrats be willing to go all in for the second office on the statewide ticket instead of the top job? Would running for the second office inspire other viable Democrats to jump in and fill the other statewide positions? Finally, if Greg Abbott had a second-tier challenger for Governor, would he not just spend all of his money promoting a straight ticket strategy or donate directly to a PAC affiliated with the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor? These are all unknowns we would only find answers to should Sen. Davis engage upon this path.
With all the action that has been occurring at the state-level in Texas, it has been easy to forget that Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election next year as well. If there's anything more unpopular than what has occurred in the Texas Legislature, it's the United States Congress. Sen. Cornyn has been amassing power in Washington over his twelve years there and is now the Republican Whip in the US Senate, meaning it is his job to make sure the Republicans have the votes to block as much of President Obama's legislation and nominees as possible. Everyone wants to run against Washington, so why not run against a man of Washington?
One reason is that this will be a federal race, meaning, due to different fundraising and ethics laws, none of Sen. Davis' current campaign finances are directly transferrable to a race for US Senate. Another would be that Sen. Davis has built a reputation of standing up for Texans when it comes to our state budget, health care, and government services. To run for the United States Senate would mean she would have to pivot to federal issues, which, while they are important, do not re-enforce the brand she has built about herself.
The filing deadline is not until December 9th of this year, so there is plenty of time for Sen. Davis to decide what she wants to do. As Texas Democrats, we have the right to beg and plead and cheer and rally for Sen. Davis to run for any one of these offices, much like how Texas Republicans have the right to hope in fear that she runs for no office. However, if we have learned anything from the special session's fight on women's health: It's her choice, and no one can make it other than her. However, whichever office she may choose to run for, she will need an army of grassroots volunteers and a mountain of financial donations to win. We eagerly await Sen. Davis' announcement on her future plans, expected later this year.