Republican Greg Abbott holds an 8-point advantage over Democrat Wendy Davis in the first poll on potential head-to-head matchups in the 2014 Texas gubernatorial race.But the race remains wide open more than a year before Texans choose the state’s 48th governor. Davis will announce her candidacy today, and the campaign will gear up as one of the most expensive and closely watched in the nation next year.Filing hasn’t even begun, and the primaries aren’t until March. But political analysts have predicted for weeks that the race will end up as a showdown between Abbott, the Texas attorney general, and Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth.A poll released Wednesday shows that Abbott is up by 8 percentage points — 29 percent to 21 percent — in a likely matchup with Davis. He leads in most demographic categories and even has a narrow edge among women voters. But 50 percent of the voters haven’t made up their minds, according to the poll by the Texas Lyceum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan leadership organization.“That’s a lot of undecideds,” said Daron Shaw, a University of Texas professor who conducted the poll. “I think this race looks like a generic Republican-Democrat statewide contest. Unless the Democrat has a huge financial or issue advantage, the Democrat has their work cut out for them.”Abbott kicked off his campaign months ago, but Davis — who gained nationwide fame from a June filibuster against a comprehensive abortion bill that eventually became law — has yet to formally declare.That’s likely to change today when Davis, a two-term senator and former Fort Worth councilwoman, is expected to announce that she’s running for governor. She is scheduled to lay out her political plans late this afternoon at Haltom City’s Wiley G. Thomas Coliseum, where she graduated from Richland High School in 1981.Abbott is perceived as the GOP front-runner. He has been the state’s top lawyer for 11 years and was a Texas Supreme Court justice for six, and his war chest is believed to exceed $20 million. Davis has more than $1 million on hand. No other well-known Democrat has announced a gubernatorial campaign.The numbers “suggest that Wendy Davis has her work cut out for her, although it is important to note that unlike Abbott, who has been on the campaign trail for three months, Davis has yet to formally launch her campaign,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. Republicans say Davis has no chance of winning. Democrats acknowledge that it’s an uphill battle but say Davis has star power, can turn out votes and can motivate others to run for statewide office.Gov. Rick Perry has announced that he won’t seek re-election next year, creating the state’s first open-seat governor’s race in more than 20 years.No Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994. The last Democrat elected governor was Ann Richards in 1990.Strengths and weaknessesAbbott holds a slim lead among women — 25 to 23 percent, essentially a dead heat, with the rest undecided — but has much stronger support from men, 27 to 17 percent, with 56 percent undecided.Abbott finds his strongest support among white voters, drawing 41 percent to Davis’ 17 percent, with 41 percent undecided.Davis finds her greatest support among registered black voters, leading 36 to 10 percent, and among registered Hispanic voters, leading 22 to 18 percent.The plus for Davis, Shaw said, is “the fact that it’s an open race … and the Republican doesn’t enter the race with a huge name recognition here.”The upside for Abbott, he said, is that the longtime politician has a huge advantage because he is “sitting on $15-20 million.”Either could grab control of the race by appealing to independents and the issues most important to them, Shaw said.One national analyst said you don’t need a poll to predict where the race is headed.“The Republican nominee will be Greg Abbott, and he’s a heavy favorite in November against Wendy Davis,” said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “End of story.”Other poll resultsHere’s a look at other results released Wednesday. Texas gubernatorial GOP primary: Abbott leads in the Republican Party primary, with 22 percent of the vote. Most voters, 69 percent, “haven’t even thought enough about it” to know how they’ll vote. Five percent didn’t give an answer, 2 percent said they would vote for Larry Kilgore, and 1 percent said they would vote for Miriam Martinez. Former Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Pauken drew zero percent.But Pauken said the good news is that so many voters are undecided.“It’s encouraging that Greg Abbott isn’t doing all that well at this point,” Pauken said. “There’s no deep enthusiasm for Greg Abbott.” Congress: 29 percent of registered voters say they would choose the Republican candidate, 23 percent would choose the Democrat, 5 percent said someone else and 43 percent were undecided. Texas House: 23 percent would vote for the Republican candidate, 19 percent would vote for the Democrat, 5 percent said someone else and 53 percent were undecided. Elections: When asked whether voting and election laws in Texas discriminate against minorities, 64 percent said “no,” 31 percent said “yes,” and 6 percent didn’t know.The random statewide telephone survey of 1,000 registered Texas voters was conducted Sept. 6-20 on cellphones and landlines, in English and Spanish. The head-to-head matchup reflects the opinions of 798 registered voters. The margin of error is 3.47 percentage points.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley