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In Texas Governor's Race, Abbott And Davis Try To Appeal To Women

If recent trends holds true, more Texas women than men will vote in tomorrow’s election. That’s one reason the candidates for governor have appealed directly to women. 

For Democrat Wendy Davis, the appeal to women began last year with her historic filibuster of a bill that restricts abortions. The event brought thousands of women to the state capitol and galvanized Annie’s List, a group that supports pro-choice female candidates in Texas. 

Annie’s List Women Supporting Davis

Spokesperson Sarah Rivin says Annie’s List has contributed nearly $1 million and other resources for candidates this election cycle.

“It became so clear there are men in suits making decisions about issues that affect everyday women’s lives, and Annie’s List has been able to be part of that momentum in this movement of women coming forward and saying 'enough is enough,'” Rivin said. 

“It’s time for us to take action so we have government that reflects what we want,” she said.

When Davis spoke to 700 Annie’s List supporters in September, she touched on a half-dozen issues that may motivate women to vote, including the need for better public education and a higher minimum wage to support families.

Davis also talked about her bill that would have allowed women to file pay discrimination complaints in state court where they’d have a better chance of being heard. It passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.

“I am going to keep fighting because my daughters don’t need a governor who refuses to support the idea that woman should get the same pay as men, who pays some women in his office less who do the same work as men,” Davis said, referring to Greg Abbott, her Republican opponent.

Abbott says he supports equal pay for women but doesn’t think a new law is needed to enforce it. 

Abbott has campaigned with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina to underscore his key message to women, which focuses on maintaining a strong business climate.

“Under my leadership, I want Texas to become No. 1 in the nation for women-owned businesses,” Abbott said during a recent stop in Dallas.

“Women are going to ensure we keep Texas red and I will win the women’s vote this election cycle,” he said.

Red State Women Supporting Abbott

The group, Red State Women, is working to help Abbott keep that pledge. Through social media and women’s testimonials, it is countering efforts by a coalition working with Annie’s List. 

“We’re very interested in finding out what moves women to the polls,” said Cari Christman, Red State Women’s executive director.

“We found out that has a lot to do with independence and strength. So messages that relate to women going back to school on their own, getting a job, being successful independently outside of government,” Christman said.

Women make up a slightly larger share of the state’s voters.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, says that’s one reason they’re getting special attention.

Another may be something Henson saw in polling data. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of suburban women in Texas who describe themselves as Republican dropped from 50 percent to 38 percent.

Women Voters Less “Dug In”

“There are segments of the female population that are more persuadable than men," Henson said. They appear to be a little less dug in."

He added: “They move their party affiliation a little bit more. It makes sense the Democratic campaigns particular have paid attention to them and that Republican groups have formed to make sure they hang on to Republican women.”

The conventional thinking is that Davis must attract a bigger chunk of women voters to counter the red tide that usually votes in Texas. Polls indicate she hasn’t done that. But her supporters believe the polls are wrong.

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.