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February 10, 2016

If Linda Lingle Could, Why Can’t Wendy Davis?

Davis is running for governor of Texas in 2014. (Getty images)

Davis is running for governor of Texas in 2014. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As longtime readers of this column know, voters in one-party states sometimes elect the nominee of the “wrong” party as governor. Today’s question is whether state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, has a fighting chance to win next year’s gubernatorial election in Texas, which remains a rock-solid Republican state.

Davis was elected to the Fort Worth City Council in 1999 and was re-elected four times. She defeated an incumbent Republican state senator in 2008, and four years later she squeezed out re-election, 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent, against a Republican member of the state House who challenged her in what the Star-Telegram termed a “brawl.”  

In June, Davis filibustered Senate Bill 5, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and imposed new regulations on doctors and clinics performing abortions in Texas. The Fort Worth Democrat was successful in blocking a vote at the end of the special session, but Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session and the bill passed. It was signed into law on July 18.

Davis’ filibuster drew national attention, and she was heralded as a hero by liberals, Democrats and supporters of legal abortion. Early in October, she announced that she would run for governor.

The state senator’s admirers often note her compelling personal story. She and her siblings were raised by a single mother. She became a single mother herself, living in a trailer park. She graduated from Texas Christian University and then earned a law degree from Harvard.

But even with a good story, Davis obviously has an uphill run in difficult political terrain. Still, others have succeeded.

The list of “wrong” party winners includes Linda Lingle, a Republican who won two terms as governor of very Democratic Hawaii, which has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1970. It also includes Republicans Lincoln Almond and Don Carcieri, who together won four straight gubernatorial elections in Rhode Island, which hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since 1984.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrat Dave Freudenthal was elected governor twice (in 2002 and 2006) in Wyoming, one of the reddest states in the country. In 2006, he drew almost 70 percent of the vote — 50 points better than Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry did in the state in the 2004 presidential race.

And although Kansas has voted Democratic for president only once since the end of World War II, in 1964, and the state has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since George McGill in the 1930s, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius won two gubernatorial elections (2002 and 2006), and Democratic nominees have won nine of the state’s past 14 gubernatorial races.

So merely dismissing Davis’ prospects because she is a Democrat in a Republican state is shortsighted.

Davis might be able to be the next Lingle, Freudenthal or Brad Henry (a Democrat who was elected governor in Oklahoma in 2002 and 2006) if she could convince voters that she is a moderate who is more in-step with her state than with her national party. But that seems unlikely, even though her initial campaign video sought to steer clear of ideology and her record in favor of pretty pictures and testimonials. But Wendy Davis isn’t a blank slate.

Sebelius, who served as state insurance commissioner and has a very restrained personal style, ran as a moderate Democrat to win her first term in 2002, and she benefited from a deep ideological split in the state’s Republican Party. Lingle was a moderate who ran as one, emphasizing her success as mayor of Maui and her differences with her party on abortion.

Davis apparently will try to put distance between her legislative record and her candidacy by emphasizing broadly appealing themes, but Republicans have plenty of ammunition to use against her, including enthusiastic support for the state senator from the political left.

Feminist writer Katha Pollitt, a regular contributor to The Nation, wrote about “Wendy Davis, Superhero” shortly after the Texas state senator finished her filibuster. And at, editor-at-large Joan Walsh’s ode to Davis was titled “Wendy Davis, Feminist Superhero.”

With friends like these, and others at places such as MSNBC, Davis will find it hard to remake herself. And, as veteran Los Angeles Times political reporter Mark Z. Barabak pointed out in an Oct. 8 piece, though Davis did not include her party in her initial video, Republicans will make sure during the campaign that voters know Davis and President Barack Obama are members of the Democratic Party.

At the Rothenberg Political Report, we rate the contest as Safe Republican. The Cook Political Report has it as Solid Republican, and Nate Cohn wrote in late September in The New Republic that Davis “is doomed” in her bid for governor.

Of course, EMILY’s List has already “recommended” Davis, and the Lone Star Project, the aggressive Democratic group run by former Martin Frost operative Matt Angle, is promoting Davis heavily.

But they have reasons to do so, even though the Democratic state senator looks like a loser. Democrats and liberals believe that long-term demographic trends will turn Texas purple, and Davis’ effort could speed up that process, they hope. Moreover, she could well be a national fundraising machine for liberal groups, no matter how realistic her prospects.

Texas may turn purple, but not in 2014. And not with Wendy Davis or a nominee like her.

  • boogieman7167

    I think you have left out a few thing first of all the reason you listen that wont appeal to voters sure the tea party right those type but they where not going to vote for her anyway . 2nd there is no incumbent the republican’s will have to slug it out even though Abbott seems the clear favorite . then she’s got battle ground Texas already on the ground and running and that’s just for starters. then there is name recognition and she got more of it then Abbott dose.
    this race is a whole new ball game & where just in the 1st inning

    • mabramso

      The 6th year midterm election has been notoriously bad for the incumbent President’s party. So she is fighting against demographics and history. I think that experts Cook and Rothenberg (and Sabato) are correct in their ratings of the seat being Safe Republican. The only way the GOP loses this is if they nominate an Akin-like candidate.

      • quiller51

        Abbott has had his Akin-moments–enough of them to make great Davis ads.

        • mabramso

          Yes, but Davis is too liberal for the state, and she will be hammered for that. I used to live in Texas, and I remember the Dems putting up some candidates that they were quite high on, only to see them lose by about 8-12 points. I don’t see this as being a whole lot different.

          • dectra


            You USED to live there. Demographically, the state has changed quite a bit. I think you underestimate the Hispanic Vote; also, if / when Hillary runs, the idea of a ‘women’s ticket can catch fire.

          • mabramso

            I might believe that once the Democrats come close to winning ANY statewide office in Texas.

        • Rob_Chapman

          In my view, one could make a very strong argument that Davis is the Akin candidate in the Texas gubernatorial race and that Abbott will be the one benefitting from his opponent’s off the wall remarks and record.

          • dectra

            Dream on, Rob.

            Akin was a throw back to the 1950’s in his approach to half the electorate. Wendy Davis is looking to engage all her potential voters.

      • Rob_Chapman

        1998 was a great year for Bill Clinton’s party. Reagan was able to keep the conversion of Dixie from blue to red going.

        Bush had a terrible sixth year because of the debacle of Iraq, and more importantly, in my view, because of his attempt to privatize social security.

        These aspects of history, in my view, tend to blunt the cogency of your history is against her argument.

        One would think that after GOP governance since 1994, the Dems could make the argument that twenty years of GOP incumbency is enough and that it is time for a change.

        Davis is not the one to do that though, as her kind of change represents the middle class Texan’s worst nightmare come true.

        • mabramso

          A great year? Really? 1998 was about as close to a status quo election as there ever was. The Dems picked up a whopping 4 seats in the House, 0 in the Senate, and 0 net governorships (when the GOP already controlled over 30 states). It was only a great year in that it wasn’t the disaster it has usually been. And the GOP probably would have done much better if the public had not soured on the GOP’s impeachment of Clinton for perjury (which he deserved).

          In the case of the Democrats, we have seen a new trend in the past two Presidencies — the voters hammer the President’s party at the 2-year point instead of the 6-year point. And this is why no one expects the Dems to lose many House seats (they’ve already lost them).

          But I was not clear before and merged two different ideas. Yes, the 6th year has been notoriously bad for the incumbent President’s party (though not in 1998, due to impeachment). But when I say that Davis is fighting against history, it is not just that this particular aspect. Davis also needs a wave election in FAVOR of the President to win in Texas, and THAT has NEVER before happened in the history of the country (during the 6th year of a President’s term in office).

          • Rob_Chapman

            Davis’ Texas campaign will not be affected by national trends as she has a very strong reputation in Texas NOW 14 months before the election and voters in Texas will vote on her and Abbott based on the merits of that race.

            Davis, if nominated, is likely to turn out to be the Dems Akins.

          • Wehwalt

            The last president to pick up seats in the Senate in a sixth-year election was Teddy Roosevelt. And that was when legislators still elected senators.

        • mabramso

          BTW, when I say “historically”, I don’t just mean in the past few elections. You can go back pretty much as far as you want, and this pattern holds.

    • Rob_Chapman

      Name recognition is a good thing if the opponent is unknown.

      Abbott is not unknown. At worst, voters’ conception of him is bland, but solid.

      Do you actually believe, boogieman, that the parents of Texas want a trailer-park single Mom serving as the role model for all their good little pubescent boys and girls?

      • dectra

        Nice slander, Rob.

        You MUST be a TBagger….

  • kind67

    If Ann Richards can become governor, than so can Wendy Davis. Feistiness is popular in Texas, in my view. Is Texas more conservative than when Ann Richards was governor? I don’t think so.

    • papacito9999

      Probably more conservative now than during the Richards era. Back in the early 90s the Democratic Party was still strong at the state and local levels in Texas. Now they’re basically an afterthought.

    • Rob_Chapman

      Texas is much more conservative than when Richards was governor and the rural yellow-dog Democratic base is gone, too.

    • Victory_for_Freedom_2014

      Not going to happen; Obamacare is toxic and that makes democrats toxic; especially, a radically left candidate who’s claim to fame has to do with “war on women” hyperbole and infanticide. The latter, being something that people tolerate but do not celebrate.

      • dectra

        The only thing ‘toxic’ is TBaggers and their quixotic desire to strip health care from 40 million people, VfF

        • Victory_for_Freedom_2014

          I think you meant Obamacare stripped 40 million, sport.

          • dectra

            Well, pithy name aside, your post flies in the face of reality, boy.

            More people have health insurance now than they did under Bush, regardless of what Fox Propaganda you’d like to parrot onto the boards, boy.

      • english_teacher

        I think you’ve mistaken who uses hyperbole. It’s the side that equates that the legal procedure of abortion with infanticide. An infant is a child during the earliest period of life after birth, an infant is not a non-viable zygote/embryo/fetus.

        As for the war on women, I can tell you that it’s real and it’s being waged by christianist, right-wing extremists.

        • Victory_for_Freedom_2014

          I think there are two points worthy of making in response to your comments. If it is “legal” how does that not still make my point? There are too many examples throughout history of genocide and other tragedies, justified because they were “legal” or “I was told to.” Moreover, while your opinion is as valid as mine, because that’s how our country works … at least for the time being, please explain why prosecutors often file two murder charges (instead of one) if a pregnant woman is killed along with her inborn child?

          Finally, most Americans, in addition to “Christianists”–whatever that means–believe in the sanctity of life. As far as “hyperbole”, is ironic that you used the term “extremist” for one who has a different mentality than you. But which mentality sounds like an extremist: one who believes in the sanctity of life; or one who believes in exterminating the unborn on demand … and having the American taxpayer fund it?

          • english_teacher

            First, please cite how many prosecutors have filled two murder charges and tell me whether the unborn child was viable.

            Ah, yes, the sanctity of life. where the life of a living, breathing woman has less value than that of a non-viable zygote/embryo/fetus whose parasitic existence is dependent on the woman’s. Abortion is a decision made by the woman based on her knowledge of what is right for her and her family, if she has one. Your opinion regarding her decision is none of your business. The zygote/embryo/fetus has the possibility of becoming a full-fledged possibility but it has no rights and certainly none that trump that of the woman’s.

            The war on women is not hyperbole and not a difference of mentality or opinion. It’s real. The ones who are conducting this war against women belong to the extreme right-wing. There is nothing politically center about their positions. Many call themselves Christians but they do not act as Christians. They pick and choose from the Bible, twisting passages to support their positions.

            I have no problem with someone who has an opinion that is different than mine. However, when that person starts trying to take away my rights and impose their morality, not mentality, on me, then I have a problem and I call that extremism.

          • Victory_for_Freedom_2014

            “Extremism” as you put it, is a two-sided coin. Your analogy to the unborn as a “parasite” says enough of your views; but again, while it seems to me you may humor other viewpoints, that is only if they do not get in the way of your own. It’s similar to liberty by elimination: your “freedom” to abort even others lose their liberty by having to pay for your “choice”. I don’t believe a taxpayer should pay for your rather disturbing view of unborn life and likely those of an elderly age as well. I mean under your system, the elderly are parasites too, right?

            You should be pleased your own mother had a different view the unborn. Have a nice life.

          • english_teacher

            The zygote/embryo/fetus is a parasite because it cannot live without the support of the woman’s body. The definition of a parasite is animal, in this case a human, which lives in another and draws its nutriment directly from it, harming it in the process.

            Pregnancy is harmful to women. It’s not a walk in the park. Unlike you, who has not provided any citationsI requested, I will tell you where you can find a list of all the problems. go to and go to pregnancy complications.

            The elderly, on the other hand, already have a life that is not dependent on the use of another’s body to continue to survive. the zygote/embryo/fetus, There is no equivalence to an abortion.

            It is my right to decide and control what happens to my body that trumps any continuation of the zygote/embryo/fetus.

            Explain how I would know if my mother had had an abortion. It’s kind of hard to know anything if you’ve never existed.

  • Montesquieu

    As Adam Ferguson noted, “nations [and individuals] stumble upon establishments which are the result of human action but are not the result of human design”.

  • Rick Turner

    Wendy has no chance to win in Texas. The 0bamacare fallout along with here radical abortion stance says all you need to know. The off year election is bad for party in White House and this year will be tsunami for conservatives.

    • Rob_Chapman

      I disagree entirely with your view that this year will be a Tsunami for conservatives. The stories about Obamacare will die off when the technical glitches with the web-site are fixed.

      The election will be dominated by an improving economy and be continued disaffection with the grid-lock in Washington which will be more and more perceived as impeding the economic expansion.

      GOP House incumbents will meet strong challenges from state legislators interested in moving up, but otherwise the gerrymandered districts will protect their incumbent PARTIES.

      US Senate and gubernatorial elections will favor incumbents, so very few incumbents with effective records of constituent service will be endangered.

      Davis will continue to get a lot of press as the flaming liberal running in blood red Texas. Her gaffes and record will be magnified to the point of cariciture.

      Nominating her for governor would be an act of auto-genocide by the Texas Democrats.

      • mabramso

        Actually, demographics are in play quite a bit in the Senate, which will benefit the GOP. The Democrats are defending 7 seats in states won by Romney, 6 of which Romney won by double digits. That is enough to flip the Senate. The GOP should flip the open seats in MT, SD, and WV pretty easily, and I suspect that they will also beat the incumbents in AR and NC. And in AK and LA, I would rate these as 50-50 for the Democrats at best. The Dems, of course, are trying to win in KY and GA, but I suspect those efforts will fall short, as they are both pretty red states.

        • Rob_Chapman

          All good points M, but please consider, Obama lost all the states but NC which have “endangered” Dem incumbents. As most of the House seats are gerrymandered to favor the incumbent party, the House will likely look much the same in 2015 as it does now.

          As Senate seats are state-wide elections, they are far more difficult to gerrymander, but most states still have distinctive, red, blue or purple political complexions. Most of the incumbent Dem Senators in the red states up for re-election in 2014 have won elections despite of Obama, not because of him and have their own strengths for carrying enough votes to get elected in their respective states.

          In WV, ND, and MT as they are open seats and the GOP contenders all have strong statewide experience, I think the GOP will pick up those seats Rehberg and Capito are extremely attractive candidates who would run well in any election anywhere in the USA.

          NC is extremely interesting. It is changing state whose demograhics are undergoing a huge shift, but it is unclear whether the inflow of residents in more liberal/dem or GOP/conservative leaning.

          NC is also interesting in that its state-wide officials are elected in the presidential election year, so the Senate election will not be occluded by local issues and personalities as the senate campaigns in other states.

          This leads me to think if there is a single election occurring in the US in 2014 that would serve as a referendum on Obamacare and the rest of the President’s record, the NC senate race would be it.

          • mabramso

            I disagree with your second paragraph. I will grant you that you are perhaps correct in one case — Landrieu in LA has been there a while and has survived in spite of state demographics. But this is her first post-Katrina midterm election, and the GOP candidate does appear to be stronger than previous cycles. Hagan in NC was swept in in 2008 when Obama surprisingly took the state, and her opponent, Elizabeth Dole, was really not that great of a politician. Your other comments about NC are probably pretty accurate. The Senators in AR and AK both won election by defeating badly flawed incumbents who had highly publicized scandals. I am 99% certain that the GOP will defeat Pryor in AR (their candidate is a sitting House member and a very good fit for the state’s demographics), but I am less certain about defeating Begich in AK. AR is a state where the GOP defeated an incumbent Dem Senator in 2010 by a whopping 16 points. That doesn’t normally happen to incumbents, but it gives you an idea of where the state’s demographics lie.

            The bottom line is that IF the GOP gets their voters to the polls in 2014, they should be able to take all of these toss-up seats.

  • AnotherTexan

    Who ever wrote this article is a joke and the ideology behind Texans being mainly GOP citizens is digusting… Keep in mind that this election is a whole year away and many things are bound to change ;)

    • mabramso

      After a year, the government shutdown will not be an issue anywhere. In 1994, the GOP shut the government down later in the election season than 2013, and there was no significant effect on the election (in fact, the GOP actually picked up 2 Senate seats).

  • Benjamin Dover

    We rarely take the time to consider that the goods and services we use result from the knowledge and efforts of millions of strangers distributed across the globe.

  • Liberalism Is Nonsense

    Effective competition depends upon competitors following rules and restraining their desire to cheat or use force against other competitors.

  • Defend Liberty

    Those worshiping collectivism fail to realize that aggressive human instincts were present long before liberty, prosperity, and profits.

  • Socialism is Evil. Organized.

    Those who preach from collectivism’s altar declare that equality of wealth must be imposed in the interests of “society” and that the “rich” must pay their “fair” share.

  • Socialism: Organized Evil

    Those who oppose liberty tend to insist that civilization was somehow magically designed and that our knowledge depends upon intellect that exists apart from experience.

  • Chumba Wumba

    Unfettered worship of democracy can be dangerous because democracy is often confused with liberty, may be diametrically opposed to liberty, and is often exploited by those pursuing their own egotistical agenda.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Davis might be able to be the next Lingle, Freudenthal or Brad Henry (a Democrat who was elected governor in Oklahoma in 2002 and 2006) if she could convince voters that she is a moderate who is more in-step with her state than with her national party.

    This formulation makes sense, and particularly makes sense in Texas where the GOP is currently dominated at the state level by its extremist fringe.

    But Davis clearly is not a moderate, nor can she claim a moderate record, even if she has one.

    The single event of Davis’ career and the sole reason she has any traction whatsoever was her pro-abortion fillibuster.

    One wonders which the rank and file off year Texas voter will find more distasteful, the filbuster as a legislative tactic or the full throated defense of abortion on demand.

    Running Davis as the standard bearer will likely set the Texas Democracy back to representing its most loyal, core constituencies only.

  • Victory_for_Freedom_2014

    She’s not going to win anything because aside from lunatic fringe and other low information voters, clear-thinking people are not buying the “war on women” hyperbole and don’t really think infanticide is a rallying cry.

  • Thomas Aquinas

    Even when democratically selected, a government committed not to principles, but to reacting to circumstances, will be forced to submit to others’ principles and to take actions it never before considered.

  • Chumba Wumba

    If merit entitles a person, then liberty does not exist because someone else has been empowered to position them via subjective judgment.

  • Defend Liberty

    Although liberty’s benefits increase along with our commitment to it, liberty’s importance has little to do with the number of people who actually want to use it.

  • Defend Liberty

    Since liberty cannot survive if the vast majority of people do not understand its benefits, it is critical that liberty’s eternal and immutable principles be as widely disseminated as possible.

  • George Allegro

    Our trust in liberty rests on the understanding that it will, in the long run, unleash much more potential for good than for evil.

  • Travis LaFalce

    The reason Linda Lingle could and Wendy Davis can’t is because Democrats are more willing to change the party they’re voting for in certain circumstances. Republicans are so racist, backwards, and misogynist that they’ll never vote anything or anyone but the GOP. Not to mention every single Republican in Texas is calling Wendy Davis the “Abortion Barbie.”

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