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Pink Sneakers Take The State House

News & Features | October 28, 2013

Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator hailed as a feminist fighter in pink tennis shoes, has announced she will be running for governor of Texas.

Her candidacy announcement came exactly 100 days after the legislative filibuster that caused her rise to national political prominence as a champion of women’s rights. On June 25, Davis stood and spoke for 11 hours in opposition to the Republican-backed Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), which sought to further restrict abortion rights in the state of Texas. People across the nation took note, watching the live stream and spreading the news through social media. President Obama tweeted, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.” Others echoed his sentiment and tweeted their support using the hashtag #standwithwendy. Although SB 5 was eventually passed, Davis and her filibuster came to serve as a symbol of women’s rights for liberal supporters and the Democratic Party. The filibuster also galvanized Democrats, giving them a boost of morale and momentum as well as financial support. In the two weeks after her stand, Davis received almost $1 million from campaign contributors. Many of these contributors donated $50 or less, demonstrating the grassroots nature of her supporters.

In the conservative state of Texas Davis will fight a hard battle to be the first Democratic governor elected in nearly 23 years. The Republican Party has enormous support within the state; in the 2012 presidential election, Obama lost Texas by nearly 1.3 million votes. It is evident that in terms of party politics, the Democrats are the underdog.

Davis’ opponent will likely be Gregg Abbott, the current attorney general of Texas, making her status as the underdog even more apparent. Abbott has been called “one of the most popular Republicans in the state” and an “almost unbeatable candidate” by independent political analysts. His conservative stance on issues like the environment and the Affordable Care Act, which situate him in opposition to the Obama administration, makes him a clear choice to represent Republican interests. In addition to popular ideological support, Abbott enjoys a strong base of financial support––he has already raised more than $20 million in campaign funds.

Davis, however, whose candidacy has been described as a “shot in the arm” for the Democratic Party, has her own appealing personal and political traits. A brief look at Davis’ personal story shows that she has overcome some hefty obstacles in the past. A single mother at the age of 19, Davis raised her daughter in a trailer park in Fort Worth. She then took classes at a community college while working two jobs and attending Texas Christian University before eventually paying her own way through Harvard Law School and getting elected to the Texas Senate in 2008. Her inspirational narrative will play a strong part in her campaign by appealing to voters’ emotions.

Davis’ personal appeal as a candidate provides an opportunity for Democrats to gain a foothold in the realm of Texas politics. Politically, she looks to represent the Democratic liberal side of both controversial as well as less heated issues. She seems to be taking caution to appear as more than a single-issue candidate who focuses solely on women’s reproductive rights. She’s also making a concerted effort to establish herself as a politician who places importance on issues like education and health, notably omitting discussion of abortion and filibuster in her candidacy speech.

Even if Davis does not win the election, her presence in the race has the potential to revive the Democratic party s in Texas and help attract other voters to the party, specifically people of color. Analysts point to the growing Hispanic population, noting that this voting bloc has the potential to make Texas a competitive state for Democrats as the year 2020 approaches.

Davis’ candidacy may also encourage other female candidates to run for elected office nationwide. In a society that seems to discourage women from running for office, her presence in the gubernatorial race is a display of empowerment that may inspire other women to run. A recent article in the Washington Post attributes women’s lack of political representation in the United States primarily to their not running for office, something that results from external and internal messages that they are unqualified to run.

Furthermore, Davis is creating a bridge between the realms of feminism and politics. Her candidacy, coupled with her vocal emphasis on women’s rights, makes her not just a politician who values feminism but also a political feminist. Her rise to prominence means the pulling of feminism into the mainstream world of politics: no longer do feminists have to look to fringe candidates to represent their priorities, but rather they can look to someone like Davis, a member of one of the two major political parties. A voice for women’s rights is finally finding its audience and developing its influence in Texas and the country as a whole.