On Thursday it became official: Texas State Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth is running for governor of Texas. Standing on the same stage in Haltom City where she received her high school diploma in 1981, Davis announced her candidacy to succeed Governor Rick Perry and be the first Democratic governor elected in the state since 1990.
The question lingering is, can she win? Do Democrats dare to dream?
Time will tell, but widespread enthusiasm for her campaign inspires the belief that she's got a fighting chance as an underdog.
She spoke to an excited crowd of North Texans who waited patiently for her appearance, touching on aspects of her own life story that will likely resonate across the state: the circumstances of her young adult years on her own with a baby and little money, climbing the educational ladder from community college to an Ivy League law school, entering politics by working on issues affecting her own neighborhood, and being elected on her second try in 1999 to the Fort Worth City Council.
Her life and struggles, she said, are hardly unique. That so many can relate to them is part of why she's running: to remind Texans that hardscrabble conditions are no excuse for low expectations or giving up on unrealized dreams.
Public education and health care, both touchstones of Thursday's announcement speech and very much linked to uplifting anecdotes from her own life, are going to figure greatly into her campaign.
Another reason she's running, arguably a better one as far as the gritty realities of political campaigns go, is her celebrity. Simply put, she's got name recognition no other candidate could bring, including Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio. Ever since her filibuster earlier this year, she's been getting constant attention from state and national press outlets, all convinced Davis is now the leading light of Texas Democrats, perhaps the party's best shot at overcoming years of low fund-raising and lackluster campaigns.
What she filibustered on June 25 — according to Texas Senate rules, which are far stricter than U.S. Senate rules — was a bill designed by Republicans to cut down on the number of abortions taking place in Texas. Despite her initial success in preventing the bill from passing, Perry called the first of several special legislative sessions this summer and the bill ultimately became law.
This is how the world was introduced to Davis, which gave many the impression she is some kind of ultra-liberal, that she's intent on turning Texas into a blue state with ruinous taxation and abortion on-demand at any time for any reason. This is far from true, although Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general and Republican nominee for governor will probably shout it from every campaign trail platform in Texas.
The truth is that Davis is actually a centrist. By national Democratic Party standards, she'd be conservative, a type of Blue Dog Democrat. She prides herself on her nonpartisan approach to governing, which is reflected by the fact that she voted in Republican primaries on numerous occasions, such as in 1996, 1998, and 2006. She's even donated money on occasion to GOP candidates in the past, as the New York Times reported. While on the Fort Worth City Council, she worked once-upon-a-time against the interests of employee unions and against very popular property tax freezes for elderly Fort Worth residents.
Davis can only hope that Texas voters come to share this nonpartisan perception of her, and that voters fed up with news stories about gridlock and squelched opportunities in Washington D.C. will vote for someone who doesn't fit neatly into partisan divides on either side of the aisle.
Whether this is a recipe for Democratic victory in Texas is unclear, but the prevailing feeling is that now is a good time to weigh the odds. That in itself, for beleaguered state Democrats, is a success.