Davis disappoints in gubernatorial debate

Breanne Deppisch

Less than 24 hours after a mediocre performance in the Rio Grande gubernatorial debate, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, appeared in Austin ready to re-enter the political wringer. “I’ve always been an eternal optimist,” she assured her audience on Saturday. “And I’m here to tell you today: I’m not going to lose this election.” Though Davis played her part flawlessly as the brazen, empathetic trailblazer in her speech on Saturday evening, voters cannot help but wonder — after failing to gain headway against her opponent on Friday, and continuing to struggle by a double-digit margin in recent polls — are the odds stacked too high for this underdog candidate to make the comeback she so desperately needs?

Davis was awkward and accusatory in Friday’s debate and failed to deliver the political knockout that many had hoped for. The Democratic senator would have done well to move past the offensive, but her arguments failed to generate traction as she circled back repeatedly to critiques of Abbott’s “insider friends.” She remained in attack mode when she should have given Abbott space to fumble; she was brash and argumentative when she should have treaded lightly. As the winning candidate, Abbott had everything to lose — but Davis’ heavy-handed attempts failed to even knock him off script.  

And the latest statistics are difficult to ignore. Abbott has held a significantly commanding lead, averaging at least a 12-point lead above Davis throughout most of the election. These are inauspicious numbers to a campaign in its beginnings, and they are downright ominous as the election draws near.

Davis is certainly making every effort to pull out the necessary stops — even releasing a biography of personal information in order to bolster her narrative — but her efforts in the political arena seem to be falling short. And when you compare her with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has pocketed both popular party affiliation and endorsement of the current governor, well, Davis certainly has her work cut out for her.

"Abbott would have to make a colossal blunder to lose this race,” agrees Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, political scientist at the University of North Texas.

Throughout her political career, Davis has crafted a narrative of underdog success. Though her battle against HB 2 was ultimately thwarted, it was the “filibuster heard ‘round the world” and gave resonance of a political hero in the making — if not in Texas, than certainly in more liberal states. Her angle has been one of “fighting the power,” of paving a new trail and protesting the system.

But perhaps these radical promises that set Davis aside as a candidate are also the things that may cost her the race in Texas. And while her confidence, despite the odds, is endearing, the Democratic candidate would do well to focus less on the charm and more on the chasm — for this gubernatorial nominee certainly has a long road ahead.

Deppisch is a government senior from League City.