Pardon me, but I hope you can help me in search of someone. She was last seen wearing a dress with pink tennis shoes, has blonde hair and is about yea high. My Democratic gubernatorial nominee is missing in action. Her name is Wendy Davis, and hopefully you can help me find her.
Now, for better or for worse, I follow Statewide politics to the point of obsession, so I literally do know that she has been popping up at events in towns from Austin to Fort Worth, but most people are not like me. Most people know of Wendy Davis because of the abortion filibuster, when she stood up for 13 hours against a bill that was ultimately responsible for closing most of the abortion clinics in the State. A few less, but still a sizable percentage, know that she is the Democratic nominee for Governor. Beyond that, who knows.
I can’t say that I have ever seen a Wendy Davis for Governor commercial, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a direct mail piece from her and I surely do not pass any billboards on my morning commute that advertise for her campaign. Last time I checked, Davis has a great deal of money in the bank, and her obsequious supporters have pointed to this as a sign that she will run a serious campaign. Unfortunately, having a lot of zeroes in a bank account does not command respect or momentum in and of itself. The only reason that money is feared is because it is typically spent. I’m not exactly sure what is happening in this situation.
While it is true that Democratic campaigns in Texas often have to pinch pennies and squeeze every dollar, Davis’ campaign has raised far more than other Texas Democrats. Compared to Bill White (the 2010 Gubernatorial nominee), she is flush with campaign cash. Furthermore, the defeatist rhetoric associated with the phrase “we don’t have enough money to start running ads until the fall” should not be present in this campaign if they truly do intend upon
winning running a competitive campaign. In fact, it should sound alarm bells.
Make no mistake, Davis will not win, nor will she come even close, if she plays it safe by not going on the air until September. She has to start making headway right now. Democrats have uphill battles, and cannot opt to simply match the exertion of the Republican nominee; Davis will have to outperform it by an exponential variable.
Additionally, I am sure that defenders of this complacency-with-mediocrity strategy will point to the fact that, unlike many of the other Statewide Democratic candidates both this year and in previous cycles, Davis already has widespread name recognition throughout the State. The issue with this is that her name recognition is not good. Actually, “not good” is a kind understatement; “deplorable” would be a far more accurate descriptor. When Public Policy Polling surveyed Texas politics in April, it found that only 33% of respondents had a positive impression of Davis, compared to 47% with a negative one. Most importantly, this meant that a whopping 4/5ths of those polled had heard enough of Davis to come up with an impression, something unprecedented in recent Democratic politics.
Changing an impression is much harder than making one, as anyone who has screwed up with a prospective romantic interest could tell you. Accordingly, one could make a very convincing argument that Davis is in a deeper hole than Bill White was in four years ago. She needs to redefine herself with the voters, because right now abortion is simply dominating people’s impressions. This isn’t damning, in my opinion, per se, but Davis is obviously not comfortable running on that fame, as evident by her misguided attempt to be characterized as “Pro-Life” some months back.
I don’t really want to write a prescription for the Davis campaign, because I think there are a couple of different paths to where they want to go. Being arbitrary and inconsistent between those paths, however, is not a feasible one of them. Either start running on what you are famous for (i.e., the “Abortion filibuster State Senator”) or put your money where your mouth is and start changing the narrative. Start spending your money, one way or another, though, because sitting on your hands into the summer is not a winning strategy.
The last time that the campaigns had to open their books, Davis’ campaign, along with concurrent campaign committees, had raised over $16,000,000.00. That buys a good number of television ads to explain why you should or should not be defined by that filibuster that occurred about a year ago. Television made Davis a star once, let us see if it can again.
“Civil Affairs” is Horwitz’s op-ed series. It has appeared in The Justice, The Daily Texan and the Houston Chronicle, as well as on Tepatriate.