Davis inspires optimistic progressives, but her chances are slim.
Wendy Davis is running for governor, and the starry eyes of liberal optimists have never shone so bright.
Since her sensational filibuster in the Texas Senate last June, Davis has been the kind of hero the left lionizes every few election cycles: smart, inspiring, effective and unapologetically liberal. With her seat in the Texas legislature certain to fall into GOP hands next fall, many on the Left have hoped she'll catch a lifeboat in the form of the Texas governor's mansion.
Bad news: It ain't gonna happen.
If Wendy Davis becomes the 2014 Democratic candidate for Governor of Texas, she will lose and lose badly.
Texas is an extraordinarily red state. Despite a lopsided national victory, President Obama lost the Lone Star Republic by 12 points in 2008; in 2012 it was 15. While there exist places equally unfriendly to national Democrats but with a history of blue local governance (think Kentucky or Arkansas), Texas, where no Democrat has won a statewide election in nearly 20 years, isn't one of them.
The last Democrat to run for governor in Texas was far more conservative than Davis or President Obama. But he had a "D" next to his name, so he lost by thirteen points.
Compounding the already heavy odds is the composition of midterm electorates. Core Democratic constituencies tend to vote in years divisible by four; while those most likely to vote in midterms, the elderly, white and affluent, skew Republican. Even in the most favorable poll to Davis so far she is down by 8 with half undecided. But even that 50% are largely Romney voters – they aren't breaking even, much less D+8.
Davis' inevitable defeat isn't what worries me as a progressive staring down 2014. Somebody's got to run for governor, and if nothing else, she'll have a temporary platform to influence the dialogue. No, what worries me is the millions she'll get in donations from liberals nationwide who believe she can win, and who believe their dollars are going to make it happen.
To an extent, they're right. Money moves votes, and in elections with millions of voters, that movement can be expensive. According to political analysts, it costs an average of $15 for every one vote moved to the polls by "Get Out The Vote efforts" –- a good reason, it would seem, to send Davis every dollar we can spare.
But it isn't quite so simple. Money buys votes, but the returns diminish rapidly.
Some people are going to vote - or not vote - no matter what. GOTV is aimed at fence sitters, with the highest return on investment coming from those with a 45% likelihood of going to the polls. But these golden voters aren't infinite, and so the best GOTV effort in the world can only swing an election by two or three points. In a close race, that can be the difference. In Texas, it means Davis losing by single digits instead of double.
All of this leads to one tough conclusion: Liberals should not donate money to Wendy Davis in 2014.
The upcoming midterms are going to be rough. Democrats stand to lose the Senate and drop 20 seats in the House – maybe 15 if the recent shutdown doesn't fade too fast from memory. The Kentucky Statehouse (currently controlled by Democrats and responsible for the smoothest Obamacare rollout in the country) will be in play. Governor's races in Michigan, Ohio, and Florida -- whose outcomes will determine the fate of voter ID laws and with them the Democrats' chances in 2016 -- will fall within that two-point margin where money can move enough votes, and where every dollar will count.
The Left likes heroes. They like unapologetic warriors for the cause, and they have a bad habit of believing that with enough gumption and hope, even the most depressing odds can be bested. Its true, sometimes (a current president comes to mind), but more often that not, it leads to good grassroots money thrown after bad, and defeat where more strategic investments in less flashy figures would have meant victory.
I'd love to see Governor Wendy Davis some day. But in 2014, we need to win everywhere we can, and refuse to throw away our resources where we can't. My money is going where it can make a difference, even if it means abandoning a newly minted hero. Even if it means that Davis has to stand alone. She's done that before, and then, as now, she'll live to fight another day.
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