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Texas Democratic Party Chair Believes Wendy Davis Will Run For Governor

Shelley Kofler
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa tells some Tarrant County Democratics Wendy Davis could be a "game changer."

Next week State Senator Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, will officially tell us whether she plans to run for governor.

State Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa says Davis hasn't confided in him but he thinks he knows what she’ll say.

“Yeah, I think she’s going to run for governor. I hope she’s going to run for governor,” he said Thursday night at a North Texas Democratic event.

Republicans say that won’t change the math that keeps electing their candidates.

But in the red, Republican suburb of Colleyville, Democrats are organizing.

About 50 of them have gathered at the home of their local club’s president to hear from Hinojosa.  He tells them why their party next year can break the lock Republicans have had on every statewide office for nearly two decades.

“They have allowed their party to move so far to the right it doesn’t represent mainstream Texas,” he said.

Then pulling off his suit coat and rolling up his white shirt sleeves Hinojosa talks about who will lead the charge.

Credit Callie Richmond / Texas Tribune
Texas Tribune
Sen. Wendy Davis holds up two fingers, urging senators in June to vote against the abortion bill.

He recalls the now mythic event: State Senator Wendy Davis’ 11-hour filibuster of a bill that would ban most abortions in Texas.

Hundreds opposed to the bill packed the capital to "stand with Wendy," a phrase they chanted throughout the day.  When Republicans tried to shut down her filibuster, the crowd cut loose, causing so much disruption the bill died.  Though it would be passed in a later session, Davis rocketed to national fame.

“What these Republicans did is they created a movement in the state of Texas behind this woman,” Hinojosa said, adding:   “We have a candidate that excites the passion of Texans in a way I’ve never seen before, even more than Ann.”

Ann Richards was the last Democrat and the second woman to occupy the Texas governor’s office.  Hinojosa believes Davis’ electricity could attract enough new Democratic voters to make her the third.

He believes she can overcome the 630,000 vote difference that separated Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White in the governor’s race four years ago.

“You’re going to have new Democratic voters who are part of the base who didn’t vote in the past.  You’re going to have a lot of people who have traditionally voted for Republican candidates who are a little tired of the social agenda of right wing Republicans.  You are going to see a bigger margin of younger voters, kind of like you saw with Barak Obama in 2008,” Hinojosa predicted. 

But Republican Pollster Mike Baselice says it’s all a fantasy.

“I don’t think Wendy Davis is exciting enough to overcome the numbers,” Baselice said. 

“The reality is that the state of Texas provides four out of seven votes for Republican candidates statewide.  That’s not going to change in 2014.  It may change in 2024 but we’re a long way off from there,” he said.

At the Colleyville event Tarrant County’s Democratic Chair Deborah Peoples rationalizes the long losing streak for the party's statewide candidates this way:  “Texas is not a red state.  It is a non-voting state,” she said.

“Residents here don’t go to the polls in the same kind of numbers that residents in other states do.  They’ve decided the election is already forecast and so once we put good Democrats on the ballot people will go to the polls and vote for them,” said Peoples.

Peoples and others listening to their party chairman agreed that if Davis runs for governor, she’ll help elect other Democrats further down the ballot.

“Anywhere from House district races down to justice of the peace, constable, they’ll get such a benefit having her at the top of the ticket,” said Mark Bauer.

But Republican Pollster Baselice says the big event that launched Davis gives his party an issue that could defeat her.

“Go ahead, run a campaign on abortion and see what happens in a conservative state like Texas,” he said. 

“Some of the people at the end of the day will be distancing themselves from Wendy Davis.  It’s going to cost you votes,” Baselice predicted.

The volatility of the abortion issue may be why Hinojosa talks about Davis challenging a Republican opponent like Greg Abbott on women’s health issues, instead of abortion, or on issues like education where Republicans have cut funding.

With Davis’ announcement just days away Hinojosa tells Colleyville Democrats to roll up their sleeves and get ready to fight.

“Don’t ask Wendy to run unless you are willing to do a lot more than you have done in your life for this campaign.”

He says it will take that and more to defy the odds.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.