Democrat Wendy Davis has star power and a growing following from San Francisco to New York City. But can she translate the fame she achieved from her epic filibuster of a bill restricting abortion into a successful race for Texas governor?
That's the unknown as Davis begins her quest to succeed Rick Perry, governor of Texas for nearly 13 years and the Republican who helped make the state one of the reddest in the nation. She announced her candidacy Thursday at her suburban Fort Worth high school by denouncing a political culture in Austin that she says caters to special interests instead of the middle class.
"Texas has waited too long for a governor who knows that quid pro quo shouldn't be the status quo," Davis said. "It's time for a governor who believes that you don't have to buy a place in Texas' future."
Davis, a second-term state senator, became a national sensation in June when she stood for nearly 11 hours in her pink running shoes and railed against a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks and impose strict requirements on clinics. Her filibuster stopped the bill initially, but it eventually passed a special session of the GOP-controlled Legislature and was signed into law by Perry.
On paper, the challenges for any Democrat in Texas are daunting.
The last Democrat elected governor of Texas was Ann Richards in 1990. None of Perry's rivals in his three campaigns for governor mustered more than 42% of the vote. Davis' opponent next year will probably be state Attorney General Greg Abbott, the favorite to win the Republican nomination.
Abbott did not mention Davis by name in a video he released hours before her announcement, casting himself as a pro-gun, business-friendly candidate. He vowed to preserve Texas "as the land of liberty and freedom against Obama and his allies as they attempt to turn Texas blue."
Though Davis' post-filibuster fundraising added $1 million to her campaign account, Abbott has more than $20 million socked away. Political experts say it could take $40 million to compete and win in Texas, where advertising in expensive media markets such as Dallas and Houston is as important as retail politics in the Rio Grande Valley and Panhandle.
"Ultimately, you only raise money if people think you can win," said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political consultant and co-founder of the Must Read Texas political website. "The sugar high of her getting in will wear off because it's going to come down to is this a winnable race and is it worth the investment."
Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project that helps elect Democrats, says victory is possible.
"Wendy Davis has the ability to build the type of coalition that a Democrat has to build to win in Texas, one with Democrats, independents and fair-minded Republicans of all races," Angle said. "She projects strength and energy and a positive vision."
Angle dismissed Abbott's fundraising advantage, saying Davis will be able to raise the money necessary "to tell her story."
Davis' up-from-the-bootstraps narrative will be told repeatedly as she introduces herself to Texas voters in her first statewide race.
She married young, got divorced, then became a single mother at the age of 19. Davis struggled to make ends meet and lived in a trailer park but eventually went to community college, then Texas Christian University before going on to Harvard Law School and a career as a lawyer.
Support from women voters will be key for Davis, who has stressed issues such as education since she won a Texas Senate seat in 2008 that was previously held by a Republican. EMILY's List, the political group that helps elect Democrats who support abortion rights, has been an early supporter and will be with Davis in this campaign.
"The EMILY's List community has known for years that Wendy Davis is a powerhouse who stands up for Texas women and families," said Stephanie Schriock, president of the group. "Wendy can win because she believes in Texas, not politics."
Democrats in Texas have long believed the changing demographics of the state are in their favor, even though the GOP holds every statewide office. The governor's race will be one of the first tests of whether more Hispanics, who make up nearly 40% of the state's population, will register to vote and go to the polls.
In the 2012 presidential election, 1.4 million more Hispanic voters cast ballots than in 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, while the number of non-Hispanic white voters shrank by more than 2 million.
"For a Democrat to win in Texas in 2014, there would have to be an unprecedented mobilization and enthusiasm among Latino voters," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "An Anglo woman best known as an abortion champion doesn't seem well positioned to achieve that."
Texas Right to Life is airing radio ads in English and Spanish in South Texas about Davis, aimed at Hispanics and socially conservative voters. The narrator in the spot says Davis is an "abortion zealot" who cast her filibuster as a stance being made on "sacred ground."