AUSTIN, Texas — Democrat Wendy Davis made her first stop Friday in her campaign to be Texas’ governor, telling business leaders in her hometown of Fort Worth why she should replace Gov. Rick Perry in 2014.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, meanwhile, ended months of silence about his likely challenger to argue why she shouldn’t.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Abbott praised Davis’ journey from teenage mother living in a trailer to state senator who has become something of a Democratic star on the national stage. But he also painted her as a liberal extremist and seemed to harden his view toward Davis’ supporters who flooded the Capitol this summer during her star-making filibuster of Texas’ strict new abortion laws.
Abbott said he doesn’t think he and Davis will set records for spending in a Texas governor’s race. But he said he likes his chances, so long as he has enough money to campaign on his platform of limited government and low taxes.
“I know that If I have the resources to get that message out, I win,” said Abbott, who raised more than $20 million before even formally launching his campaign in July.
Davis began her long-expected campaign Thursday. Her announcement came exactly 100 days after her nearly 13-hour filibuster on the floor of the state Senate transformed her into a new hope for the state Democratic Party, which has endured a two-decade political losing streak.
A two-term senator and former Fort Worth city councilwoman, Davis carries the most charisma and energy of any Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Texas since Ann Richards won in 1990. Her first appearance as a gubernatorial candidate was Friday at a Fort Worth Rotary Club luncheon.
Davis, 50, is considered a heavy underdog who must peel off female voters from Abbott to stay competitive.
Republicans currently have no women running for any of the state’s top executive posts, including lower-profile offices such as land and agricultural commissioner.
Abbott rebuffed the idea that the lack of gender diversity at the top of GOP ticket in 2014 would be an issue for him or his party.
“That’s too simplistic. Texas women are smarter than that,” Abbott said. “Texas women are extremely discerning, extremely thoughtful. They have the same kind of concerns that all Texans do. Texas women don’t want to see a state overtaken by Obama-style, expansionary government.”
Aides to Davis did not immediately comment Friday.
Conspicuously missing from Davis’ 15-minute speech launching her campaign Thursday was the issue of abortion, even though it was her June 25 filibuster over abortion restrictions that raised her political profile. Thousands of abortion-rights supporters flocked the Capitol that night and packed the Senate gallery, causing so much noise that Republicans failed to pass the bill before the clock struck midnight and the session ended.
When asked about the demonstrations after launching his campaign in July, Abbott told AP, “You see Democracy in action. I like people who engage in the Democratic process. I think everyone has a voice. Everyone’s voice should he heard.”
But this week, Abbott said the protests were not representative of “mainstream Texas.” He recalled amateur video taken that night of some people chanting “Hail Satan” and described the evening as a spectacle.
“She was siding with a small minority group of Texans. The numbers of Texans who support late, late term abortion are very few,” Abbott said. “It’s just one of many ways in which she stands with a very small percentage of Texans against a majority of Texans. There again, she’s just walking side-by-side with Nancy Pelosi in her approach to the kind of liberal extreme that she wants to impose on the state of Texas.”
Davis also filibustered a budget bill in 2011 and temporarily delayed deep cuts to public school funding in the wake of a massive state revenue shortfall.
“She knew both times that the law she was filibustering against was going to pass anyway,” Abbott said. “It seemed, in the end, inconsequential.”
Both candidates can share with voters compelling personal stories. Abbott was paralyzed from the waist down after a tree fell on him as a young law student, while Davis became a Harvard-trained attorney after living in a trailer at 19 with her young daughter and on her way to divorce.
“I think it’s a great personal story,” Abbott said of Davis. “It’s the kind of story I see across the state of Texas. In Texas, I think more than any other state, we see people who face challenges who rise above those challenges. All Texans are tough and have the ability to do that.”
Former Texas Republican Party chairman Tom Pauken is running a long-shot bid against Abbott for the GOP nomination for governor. Abbott has far outdistanced Pauken in campaign financing.