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Sen. Davis' win confirms that her star is rising in Texas

11/07/2012 11:39 PM

06/27/2013 6:39 PM

FORT WORTH -- Wendy Davis is ready to get back to work.

One day after winning a hard-fought re-election battle in state Senate District 10, the Democrat said she's more energized than ever to return to the Texas Senate and work for the residents of her Tarrant County district.

Voters returned her to office with 51.11 percent of the vote against Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton.

"We knew it would be a tough campaign from the start," the Fort Worth attorney said Wednesday during a news conference at her campaign headquarters. "We knew there was a lot at stake here.

"For us, the stakes meant being able to go back and continue to work on the things that we know mattered to individuals and families here in Senate District 10," she said.

"For the other side, I think it was about really holding onto power and actually holding onto the opportunity to continue to ignore the concerns of people in communities like this."

But Davis said she has no time to dwell on the fact that the race was one of the most-watched in Texas this year and quickly became the state's nastiest and most expensive.

"I am anxious to go back to the Senate floor [and] work with my Senate colleagues on a bipartisan basis," Davis said.

"There should be no time for grudge matches. We need to work together and do what's best for Texas. And I am confident that we will do that."

In this race, Republicans statewide stood with Shelton, a Fort Worth pediatrician, to try to reclaim the district for the GOP and move the party within one vote of a supermajority in the Senate.

Democrats statewide backed Davis, who they believe is a rising star and potential future statewide officeholder.

Shelton conceded the race to Davis late Tuesday, calling it a close and difficult contest.

"This is not the end," he said. "It's just the beginning. We'll see what happens next."

Four years ago, Davis unseated longtime Republican Sen. Kim Brimer of Arlington to win the right to represent the district, which includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield, Colleyville, and other areas in south and Northeast Tarrant County.

Regarding any aspirations to hold statewide office, Davis said that right now she simply feels "the absolute exhilaration of regaining my seat."

"This was a hard, long journey, starting from the redistricting that occurred in the legislative session, the redistricting battle that followed ... and then coming through a very tough election," she said.

"I am so energized about going back to the Texas Senate and doing the work this community has asked me to do on their behalf."

She said her top priorities include trying to gain additional funding for public and higher education.

'No. 1 Democratic star'

The race took on the appearance of a high-powered statewide contest.

Davis, a former Fort Worth City Council member, raised more than $3.5 million, to Shelton's $2.3 million, through late October, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports.

Before the election, many observers said that if Davis could win, she would be well-positioned to make a bid for statewide office.

"With all due respect to the San Antonio mayor, she's the No. 1 Democratic star in Texas," said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant who works with both Republicans and Democrats.

"She won a very partisan race in a very partisan district. She showed she can win under very difficult circumstances."

That puts her, along with San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro -- who drew national attention for his speech at the Democratic National Convention -- at the top of the lineup of Democratic candidates poised to seek statewide office one day.

"She's got star power. There isn't any question about that," said Harvey Kronberg, editor and publisher of the Austin-based Quorum Report, an online political newsletter.

"She has demonstrated her fundraising ability even outside of traditional Democratic sources. And she is literally and figuratively an attractive candidate."

Davis now heads back to the Texas Senate, where many of her Republican colleagues endorsed her opponent.

Her best chance to be elected statewide might be in 2016 or 2018, when Texas is "going to be undeniably purple in terms of demographics," Kronberg said.

'Something great'

In 2014, several GOP officeholders may run for Texas' No. 2 post -- lieutenant governor -- even if the incumbent, Republican David Dewhurst, seeks another term.

That could provide an opportunity for a candidate to run for a statewide job without facing an incumbent in offices such as comptroller, agriculture commissioner or land commissioner.

But that might not be the direction Davis would go.

"If you want to run and win as a Democrat, you need to run for the top office -- the governor's office is the place she'd need to look," Miller said. "I would be shocked if she looked at something else.

"She's got momentum. She's got acclaim. ... And everything is working for her at this time," he said. "It would be a mistake not to go for something great."

As for Shelton's political future, Kronberg suggests that he might be poised to accept a political appointment if it comes his way.

Miller said Shelton is well-known and still has a political future that could include nearly anything he wants.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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