HALTOM CITY, Texas (KXAN) - On the stage where she received her high school diploma just one year before becoming a teenage mother, state Sen. Wendy Davis made official on Thursday what political observers had been expecting since summer.
She's seeking the Democratic nomination for governor next year and bracing for an uphill campaign in one of the most Republican state's in the nation.
"Texans deserve a leader who understands that making education a priority creates the good jobs and keeps Texas on top," Davis at a civic center in a suburb of Fort Worth. "Texas deserves a leader who will fight the fight for the future of Texas. And for me, this fight is personal."
Davis, 50, is the only Democrat to step forward for the 2014 campaign for governor. Meanwhile, Republican frontrunner Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, has won five statewide elections and has $20 million in his campaign account.
Davis' announcement, greeted by chants of "Wendy, Wendy, Wendy," means she's bet her near-term political future on the outcome as her state Senate term expires after the election.
And most observers say it's a risky bet for Davis, who skyrocketed to national fame when she waged a 13-hour filibuster June 25 in the Texas Senate hoping to derail legislation that would restrict abortion rights. The extended speech captured the imaginations of Democrats coast-to-coast, even President Barack Obama who gave Davis a shoutout in a tweet that night.
But good wishes and and the hopes of Democrats only go so far in a state that has been dominated by Republicans since Ann Richards lost the Governor's Mansion to George W. Bush in 1994.
During that near-20-year dry spell, Democrats saw every statewide race fall to the GOP. The Texas House and the state Senate also fell. After the 2004 elections, the state's congressional delegation became a Republican stronghold, leaving Texas Democrats wandering the wilderness without a leader.
The prospect of a Davis candidacy has infused Texas Democrats with an energy not seen since Richards narrow win in 1990. A "Draft Davis" movement sprang up almost as soon as her filibuster was winding down. Later, after Republicans regrouped and passed the abortion bill she had fought, Davis launched what amounted to a nationwide tour.
She appeared at the National Press Club and on NBC's Meet the Press. She raised money in California. And in the month ending in early July, her campaign had raised more than $1 million.
But now that she is in the race, Davis can expect a rougher ride. Even before her announcement, an anti-abortion group unveiled 60-second radio spots in English and Spanish against her. And some 40 anti-abortion demonstrators marched outside the venue where Davis where Davis announced her plans, The Associated Press reported.
Abbott, who leads Davis by 8 points in a poll released Wednesday, told the AP that Davis would impose a "liberal extreme" agenda and described her star-making filibuster this summer over abortion restrictions as a fringe-driven spectacle.
And Abbott told the news service that Davis is too aligned with Obama and would not win over Texas' women voters, which she'll need.
Abbott, who is facing former state GOP Chairman Tom Pauken in his party's primary, also blasted Davis' record on guns, calling it an issue where she is even further to left than former Gov. Ann Richards, who was the last Democrat to win the governor's office.
"Obama's political operation is the muscle behind Wendy Davis' political operation," Abbott said. "And we can expect the same kind of liberal policies from Wendy Davis that we've seen from the Obama administration."
In her remarks, Davis mixed her hard-scrabble upbringing as a the daughter of a single mother and later as a teen mother in Fort Worth. From there, she earned a college degree from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and later graduated from Harvard Law School.
“We’re here because we want to fight for Texas jobs and help Texas companies grow,” Davis, who was a Fort Worth City Council member for nine years before being elected to the state Senate in 2008, told the loud crowd.
“We’re here because we want every child, no matter where they start in Texas, to receive a world-class education to take them anywhere they want to go, so that success and opportunity is within reach of every single Texan, and no one in this great state is ever forced to dream smaller instead of bigger.”
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