Listen up ladies.
Democrats have declared 2014 the year of women in Texas politics.
And not just because two of them, state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, lead their party’s ticket.
It’s also because key issues for their party — equal pay for equal work, more educational opportunities and ensuring that Texans have the right to control what happens to their bodies — deeply affect women, Democrats say as they prepare for their state convention in Dallas this week,
“Women’s issues will be at the forefront of everything we do at this convention,” state Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “Women’s rights are a big issue.”
Despite the high hopes, Davis is lagging in statewide polls behind Republican nominee Gregg Abbott, the state attorney general. In fact, Davis isn’t just trailing among voters overall — she’s trailing even among likely women voters.
Democrats in Texas haven’t won a statewide race since 1994, but as many as 8,000 delegates and alternates this week will converge on the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas for their state convention.
There, Davis, Van de Putte and other leaders hope to rally the troops for the November election and show why they are the party all Texans should choose.
“What we believe in is far, far more in line with what Texas women believe in than what Republicans offer,” Hinojosa said. “The Texas Republican Party wants to take us 50 years back in all areas, including women’s rights, immigration reform, civil rights and more.”
Three weeks ago, Texas GOP held its own gathering in Fort Worth, drawing national attention for a platform that took a harder stance on illegal immigration, supported openly carrying guns and called for “reparative therapy” to heal gay Texans.
Success this year?
Women in Texas make up around half the population, and some female candidates — Democrat Ann Richards and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison — have found success.
But some political observers say they believe that 2014 may present an uphill battle for some members women.
“While gender and gender-related issues will figure much more prominently this year than they did four years ago, I do not foresee female candidates achieving any more success than in 2010,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
In a recent matchup between Texas’ top gubernatorial candidates, Davis and Abbott, about 46 percent of men supported Abbott and 32 percent Davis.
When women weighed in, there wasn’t much change — Davis drew 32 percent and Abbott 42 percent, according to Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the UT/Texas Tribune Poll.
“There are a lot of Republican women in Texas and they vote like Republicans,” he said. “What this [the poll results] tells me is there are probably some women who may be included to consider Wendy Davis, even though she’s a Democrat, but there’s no stampede thus far based on gender.”
Statistics also show that Van de Putte trails her Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for lieutenant governor.
Henson cautions against reading too much into those results because Patrick recently wrapped up a high-profile campaignb to claim the GOP nomination whereas Van de Putte quietly won her own nomination.
The recent poll shows that 45 percent of men supported Patrick and 27 percent, Van de Putte. Among women, 37 percent supported Patrick and 26 percent Van de Putte.
The big news is that many voters remain undecided.
‘A Texas Promise’
The theme of this year’s Democratic state convention is “A Texas Promise.”
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, will be convention chairman, and Davis and Van de Putte will be among the key speakers.
Speakers at the convention include Houston Mayor Annise Parker; U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio; the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate, David Alameel; state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; and state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.
Davis is expected to be the big draw, Hinojosa said.
“She is our superstar,” he said. “She is the person people want to see.”
Davis said she hopes to make an impact at the convention.
“I hope to deliver a promise of hope, a promise of courage, a promise of real leadership for our state,” she said, adding that she is “someone who will fight for every Texan and not just those few folks on the inside who have had much more powerful voices.”
Van de Putte is a growing force within the party, and many delegates look forward to hearing from her as well, Hinojosa said.
“She has become a rock star within her own rights,” he said.
At the convention, delegates will approve a party platform, an outline of the party’s beliefs that candidates do not always follow, which many expect to be similar to past platforms.
“I think our platform will be in line with the way mainstream Texans think and what they care about,” Hinojosa said. “It is very oriented to ensure that people in this state have the opportunity to succeed.”
They’ll also pass rules to guide the party, likely endorsing the recent move of precinct conventions from primary election night to right before state Senate district conventions. Officials have said the move is designed to make it easier for voters, so they don’t have to head to the polls twice on Election Day.
Democratic delegates also will choose their party leaders.
Hinojosa faces a low-key challenge from Rachel Barrios-Van Os, a party activist and unsuccessful candidate for the post in 2012.
In a statement announcing her candidacy, Van Os said she’s running to create an organized party and grow the party. “Once the people know we care about them and that we will fight for them, the voters will come back again to the Democratic Party,” she said.
Hinojosa said he hopes to win a second term at the helm of the state party.
“We want to come out of this convention united with a goal of winning in November,” Hinojosa said. “We want to show Texans that what we believe in is in line with what they believe is important for their families and Texans.”
Democrats in Texas haven’t won a statewide race since 1994.
But they did pick up a statewide Democratic officeholder last year when Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Larry Meyers of Fort Worth switched parties to run as a Democrat for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court.
War on women?
Democrats say they hope to counter the “war on women” Republicans continue to wage.
They say women are being harmed by GOP-led policies designed to restrict women’s health services, including the ability to have an abortion, not to mention a lack of effort to improve educational opportunities, health care or ensure that every worker receives equal pay for equal work.
“It is very clearly a war on women,” said Deborah Peoples, chairwoman of the Tarrant County Democrats. “The whole issue around healthcare and issues around women and their right to make decisions about their healthcare show that.”
She encourages voters to compare the Democratic Party in Texas with the Republican Party.
“Look at the diversity of our candidates across the state in terms of gender,” she said. “Then you look at Republicans and it’s all men at the top.
“Issues about women are front and center in the Democratic Party,” she said. “We are inclusive and there is room at the table for everyone.”
Jones, the Rice University political scientist, noted that no Republican women will be on the Texas ballot in November seeking a statewide office.
“For a party that is facing a Democratic slate featuring two successful and talented women as its most visible candidates,” he said, “the Texas Republican Party’s failure to have more women candidates this year has to be considered a monumental strategic error resulting from inadequate efforts by party elites to recruit and support women candidates.”