State Sen. Wendy Davis is making a huge mistake in her campaign as the Democratic nominee for Texas governor. And if she continues doing it, she just might find her potential voters staying home in droves on Election Day.The campaign apparently has decided that Davis has to distance herself from President Barack Obama — avoid being seen with him, resist talking about the issues he has championed even if she supports them, and certainly not ask the president’s help in getting out the vote in the Lone Star State.The obvious reason for this flawed strategy is that Obama is hugely unpopular in the so-called “red” (Republican-controlled) states, and Texas is one of the reddest. There’s the suggestion that if there were a photo of her and the president together, it will show up in negative campaign ads by her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott.So!The truth is, every Republican running for office, from dog catcher to governor, will be campaigning as if they’re running against Obama. They universally despise him, and hate can be such a unifying force.Davis surely understands by now that the people who hate the president will never vote for her anyway.If she has any chance of winning — and I’ve never underestimated her capabilities — she has to invigorate the Democratic base that turned out for Obama in the presidential elections, get more people registered to vote and convince them to go to polls.Who better to help her do that than the president himself?Consider the largest counties in Texas and how they voted in the 2012 election, Obama versus Mitt Romney. All but one went for Obama.Harris County (Houston) had the tightest race, with Obama winning 49.4 percent to Romney’s 49.3 percent. But in Dallas County, it was 57.1 percent to 41.7 percent; Bexar (San Antonio), 51.6 percent to 47 percent; Travis (Austin), 60.2 percent to 36.2 percent; and El Paso 65.6 percent to 33 percent.Of the major counties, Davis’ home Tarrant County was the only one that went for the Republican nominee. Romney received 57.1 percent to Obama’s 41.4 percent.Those counties all have large minority populations, as do many of those along the border that are heavily populated by Hispanics.Of the large border counties, Obama did extremely well. In Cameron (Brownsville), the president got 65.7 percent of the vote to Romney’s 33.4 percent; Hidalgo (McAllen), 70.4 percent for the president and 28.6 for the challenger; and in Webb County (Laredo), it was 76.6 percent to 22.6.Davis has to be able to get all of those people back to the polls, and then some. There are 5 million unregistered eligible voters in Texas, The Washington Post reported. In 2012, only about 63 percent of eligible African Americans, 42 percent of eligible Asian Americans and 39 percent of eligible Hispanics voted.In addition to getting those numbers up, Davis also will have to appeal to moderate Republicans, particularly women, who are not pleased with the sharp right turn their party leaders have taken.When Davis did meet briefly with the president in April at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library during the 50th commemoration of the signing the Civil Rights Act, she reportedly talked about the importance of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Having voting rights means nothing if the people don’t vote. No Democrat has won the governorship in Texas since Ann Richards did it in 1990. There are many who compare Davis to Richards, but she’s got a ways to go.Davis has to hone her messaging, and she needs to become a bit more fiery, like Richards.She also needs to stop avoiding the president as she did earlier this month when Obama was in Texas. Both were in Austin on the same day.If she doesn’t heed this advice, many of the president’s supporters may avoid her in November.
Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775