Texas state senator, weighing options, makes D.C. rounds

Emmarie Huetteman / New York Times News Service /

Published Aug 6, 2013 at 05:00AM

WASHINGTON — Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who captured the national spotlight with an 11-hour filibuster against restricting abortion rights, turned up in Washington on Monday with the news that she was considering a run for governor.

“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 after a luncheon and speech at the National Press Club.

It was Davis’ second trip to Washington in as many weeks — a period when she has met with staff members at the Democratic Governors Association, raised money at sold-out fundraisers, turned up at parties around town and huddled with Emily’s List.

The woman who turned pink sneakers into a symbol of resilience is under growing pressure from fellow Democrats to run.

“She would have very broad appeal, I believe, in Texas and across the country,” said Martin Frost, a former Texas congressman who was once head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “I believe she could raise the money necessary to make this a race.”

Although Davis said to expect a decision about whether she would run within a couple of weeks, at the National Press Club she looked like a candidate fine-tuning a political stump speech.

As attendees passed around plates of cookies — shaped like Texas and frosted in the colors of its state flag — she described her path from impoverished single mother to Harvard Law School graduate to state senator, barely glancing at her prepared remarks.

Although Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has announced that he will not seek re-election, Davis took aim at him anyway, accusing the long-serving Republican governor of trumpeting his state’s relatively low unemployment rate of 6.4 percent while standing in the way of policies that would strengthen the state’s economy.

“They travel to states as far away as California and New York trying to lure business to Texas while, at the same time, ignoring the needs in our community college and our higher education system to make sure that opportunities are available to all of our young Texans,” Davis said, alluding to Perry’s recent “Texas Wide Open for Business” advertisements. “And soon, we know the consequence of that will be that ultimately we’ll probably have to travel to other states to import brain power, too.”

Early GOP favorite

But it is Greg Abbott, the state’s attorney general, who is the early front-runner on the Republican ticket. Abbott announced his candidacy last month, after amassing a war chest of $18 million by the end of 2012 that has unnerved many Democrats.

Frost estimated Monday that Democrats would need to raise about $35 million to $40 million. During the last two weeks of June, Davis raised more than $930,000, much of it in small contributions after her filibuster, The Texas Tribune reported last month.

As her star has risen, Davis has also been a boon to Texas Democrats, drawing national attention to a party desperate for the momentum to break out in a solidly red state. On Monday, she offered nods to her fellow Democrats, calling Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio and Rep. Joaquin Castro “extraordinary” and acknowledging the “masterful” help of her fellow Texas Democrats during her filibuster.

Bill Miller, an Austin-based lobbyist who knows Davis, said she was hesitant when he encouraged her to pursue statewide office earlier this year. But while he thinks Davis will ultimately decide to run, he said it would be a mistake to run for governor against Abbott.

“He is just damned near impossible to beat,” Miller said. “In fact, I think he is impossible to beat.”