Although there was little doubt about who would be the nominees for Texas governor this year, now that the primary is over, the race between Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis can officially begin.And it promises to be a good one, perhaps the most competitive campaign for the state’s highest office in 20 years — since George W. Bush defeated incumbent Ann Richards in 1994.In many ways this year’s race will be similar, offering voters a distinct contrast between Republican Abbott and Democrat Davis, even though on a few issues Davis has cozied up closer to Abbott’s position more than some of her supporters can appreciate.Abbott, on the other hand, has done what most Republicans feel they must do to secure the loyalty of the GOP base: move further and further to the right and run more against President Obama than their primary opponents.Democrats see Davis as one coming in the spirit of Richards, who is still considered a party icon in Texas and around the nation. The late governor’s folksy humor, straight talk and championing causes of the disadvantaged endeared her to party loyalists.Richards, like Davis, understood that in order to be elected to any statewide office in Texas, a candidate had to be for two things — guns and the death penalty.As she had done in the 1989 campaign, Richards, on her 61st birthday in 1994, loaded a shotgun and went hunting on the opening day of dove season. Her opponent Bush did the same thing in a different part of the state.Both candidates felt they had to show Texans they knew how to use a gun. To Bush’s dismay, he wound up shooting a killdeer, a protected bird in Texas, and was fined $130.I hate the gun-totting images, and I’ve already seen too many in this campaign.When I asked Davis whether we could expect to see her carrying a shotgun a couple of months before the November election, she said she didn’t know. But she said she had been honored when Richards’ children gave her their mother’s shotgun.That was a nice gesture, I suppose. I just hope I don’t see her trekking through some field in September pretending to be a dove hunter.Davis has already surprised some by saying that she supports an “open carry” law, which would allow gun owners to display their weapons in public. But she thinks it should be left to property owners to decide whether they would allow such a practice on their property.Richards vetoed a concealed handgun law when she was governor, a move that was used against her by opponent Bush.On the death penalty, Davis told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that she was for it although she had some concerns, particularly because of the high number of exonerations of wrongfully convicted people in this state.Richards, as did Democratic Gov. Mark White before her, also supported capital punishment. Now White is one of the most vocal people against it.The issues that really will help define this race are significant ones — ones in which the two candidates differ greatly — including education (especially public school funding), transportation needs, water supply for a growing state, healthcare options for poor people and juvenile justice concerns.It is our duty as voters to study their positions well and decide who is best suited to lead this state and serve its people.There hasn’t been a Democratic governor in this “red” state since Richards, so Davis is considered the underdog.Let me point out that she was considered an underdog both times she ran for the state Senate, even as an incumbent, but she won.This is going to be an exciting contest, probably the most closely watched race in the country. We can expect both candidates to come out with guns blazing — figuratively speaking, of course.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders