Wendy Davis made official today what everyone had more or less expected: She’s running to be the next governor of Texas. This is a boon to both the Democratic Party and progressives in general, as Davis undoubtedly represents the left’s best (only?) chance at winning the governor’s mansion in 2014 and ending twenty years of Republican rule.
The question, though, is how big of a chance Davis actually has of defeating the likely Republican nominee, Attorney General Greg Abbott. Conventional wisdom in the Lonestar State is that, barring a complete collapse or meltdown of the Abbott campaign, Davis will be an inspiring but ultimately unsuccessful candidate. The state hasn’t elected a Democrat to the governorship in over 20 years, Davis has never run a statewide campaign before, and Abbott is generally well-regarded in the state.
But don’t count Davis out just yet. For one, she’s never lost an election—and she’s had some tough races. Texas Republicans put time and money into unseating her in 2012, but she was able to assemble enough of a coalition to defeat her challenger, Mark Shelton.
What makes this victory particularly impressive, though, is that while Davis won by three points, President Obama lost Tarrant County, in which Davis’s district resides, by 16. Davis was thus able to separate herself from Obama in the eyes of voters, and that’ll be crucial for any Democrat running in Texas next year. Tying your opponent to an unpopular member of the same party is a time-honored campaign strategy, and considering Obama lost Texas by 16 points last year, you can be sure Abbott will try to associate Davis with Obama. Her margin of victory in Fort Worth last year suggests that this will be difficult.
Abbott, on the other hand, hasn’t faced a serious opponent in years. He made a stupid, unforced error on Twitter last month, suggesting that at the very least, he’s out of practice.
Also, a Texas Lyceum poll earlier this week had Davis trailing Abbott by 8 points. This may look ominous for Davis—except when you consider that Ann Richards, the last Democrat to win the Texas governor’s mansion, came back from a 26 point deficit in 1990.
Perhaps more significantly, 50 percent of voters are still undecided, meaning there’s room for Davis to define Abbott negatively in the minds of voters and grow her own support. Of course, that also means Abbott could do the same, but the point is that there’s room for both candidates to rise or fall. The quality of each candidate’s campaign, in other words, will matter.
Lastly, the same poll showed that if a Tea Party candidate were to run, they’d suck enough support from the Republican nominee to put the Democrat on top. No such candidate has yet emerged, but there’s an outside chance that Debra Medina, a conservative who unsuccessfully primaried Perry from the right in 2010, will mount an independent run. If that happens, she could conceivably pull away enough of Abbott’s margins to propel Davis to victory.
Don’t get us wrong; Wendy Davis is still the underdog, but there’s a difference between being a long-shot and a no-shot. Politicians have overcome much worse odds than this before, and Davis’s national starpower will bring lots of money to her campaign. Don’t count her out just yet.