Wendy Davis should run for governor, even if only to lose

This Thursday, State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is expected to announce whether she will seek the Democratic nomination for governor. All signs point to yes. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that she does, but not because we believe she’s the best possible candidate or even that she can win the race. We want her to run because it will open up a new era in Texas politics in which our state government is as diverse as our demographics. 

Securing the party’s nomination will be a mere formality if Davis throws her hat in the ring. The state senator isn’t likely to face any competition after her 11-hour filibuster this summer against an omnibus abortion bill rocketed her to political superstardom.

With Davis as the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, the real challenge will come in the general election. Davis will almost certainly have to go up against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a well-funded Republican powerhouse who enjoys a 10-point polling lead over the Fort Worth Democrat in early speculative polls, according to Austin Democratic consultant Jason Stanford as reported in a Reuters article published this weekend.

Democratic Party operatives are hopeful that Davis can close both the funding and polling gaps, but we’re skeptical she can pull it off because of the state’s still strongly conservative voting demographics. Although the majority of the state’s growth in recent years has been in the Hispanic community (today, more than 50 percent of Texas public schoolchildren are Hispanic, according to Texas Education Agency data cited by The Huffington Post), journalist and academic Thomas Edsall predicted in a May New York Times column that the percentage of eligible white voters in Texas will drop to 35 percent in the next 12 years, with a concomitant rise to 44 percent in the Hispanic community.

The state’s demographics are changing, but they aren’t yet at the more “Democrat-friendly” levels Edsall predicts for the future.

Apart from the question of whether Davis can win is whether she should win. We agree with most of Davis’ policies and admire her work on issues such as abortion rights and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. However, we question Davis’ suitability as a candidate for governor. As Associate Editor Riley Brands argued this summer, Davis’ qualifications leave us wanting more. Yes, she has experience in local and state government, but are her terms on the Fort Worth City Council and in the Texas Senate really enough? More importantly, would anyone even be considering Davis as a contender if not for that famous filibuster? 

Still, despite the fact that we have doubts about Davis’ qualifications and her ability to win, we think it is critically important that she run. Hype is energy, and the energy that has been created surrounding Davis’ persona and leadership abilities can go a long way toward re-energizing a party that better represents the needs of the new Texas that is emerging, which in turn would go a long way toward moving our political conversation in a more productive and diverse direction.

The Democratic party hasn’t won statewide office in close to 20 years, and its most recent offerings for governor never inspired anywhere near the level of excitement that Davis has generated. 

That energy probably won’t be enough to get Davis over the hump, but this election presents a special opportunity for the Democrats to show their resilience. True, their continued nomination of candidates could be taken as proof of some sort of kick left in them, but really, the party has spent the past decade merely going through the motions, putting up a candidate every four years out of a mechanical desire to cling to relevance. 

This election is different, however, because Democrats have to show everyone, including themselves, that their current optimism can weather the storm of defeat. Granted, the survival of that spirit beyond the end of the legislative session is suggestive of something more than a fleeting fad, but it’s going to have to last longer than a few months to really mean something.

To put it more bluntly, Davis needs to run in part so that she and the Democrats can lose.

While another shellacking at the polls will mean at least four more years of a Rick Perry-style Republican in the Governor’s Mansion, that time will give the Democrats a chance to do two things: 1) regroup and reconsider whom to run in 2018 or 2022 and 2) wait for the current demographic shifts to swing the balance more decidedly in their favor.

The Democrats will need those two things if they are to have any shot at regaining the governorship in the near future.