Cynthia M. Allen

Beyond the pink sneakers: Can Wendy Davis’ run for Congress be about more than abortion?

How abortion access would vary without Roe v. Wade

Different states have different laws in place that will take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
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Different states have different laws in place that will take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

When I read the news that former Texas state senator Wendy Davis is pursuing a congressional seat my first thought was, “Well, bless her heart.”

My second thought was a little less editorial and a little more pragmatic. Why?

We haven’t heard much from Davis since her 2014 campaign for governor, which was, to put it mildly, an epic fail.

Greg Abbott thoroughly routed her — by a whopping 20-point margin. Davis didn’t break 40 percent of the electorate, which is something even in (what was then reliably-red) Texas. But her defeat was especially devastating considering the grand expectations, momentum and celebrity with which Davis first entered the race.

Indeed, Davis was a media darling enjoying national notoriety (and fundraising dollars) courtesy of her high-profile filibuster of — what else? — a bill that would have restricted abortions.

Among other things, the measure would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, which when compared to the “heartbeat” bills being passed in state legislatures around the country of late, seems downright indulgent.

Davis didn’t seem to think so.

She told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board in 2014 that she did not believe “the state can appropriately articulate exceptions in a way that will really be able to capture the decisions and the challenges that women face who make a decision post-20 weeks.” That was a more diplomatic way of describing the current mantra of the pro-abortion left: no restrictions on abortion whatsoever. And while Davis made it a point to paint her opponent as an extremist on abortion, Davis herself held a position that was equally, if not more, extreme. It still is.

In a very theatrical display on the Senate floor just months earlier, a pink sneaker-clad Davis had led a 13-hour filibuster that transformed both her and her otherwise unremarkable legislative career into the greatest hope the Texas Democrats had known in decades. (The law passed in a subsequent legislative session, and while parts were overturned in court, the 20-week ban remains in effect.)

After months of fawning national media coverage, Davis carried only a handful of counties, and strikingly that small number did not include Tarrant County, which she had previously represented (in part), first as a member of the Fort Worth City Council and then as a senator.

When your home county isn’t pulling for you, it may be time to rethink your strategy.

Perhaps that’s why Davis is not seeking another office in her hometown. Instead, she’s looking to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Chip Roy in the 21st Congressional District, which includes parts of San Antonio and Austin. And in reality, she probably has a better shot at turning that district blue, especially during a presidential election year in which Donald Trump will be at the top of her opponent’s ticket.

But the fact remains that Davis’ rise to fame was based solely on one thing — her fervent support of unrestricted abortion — and in Texas, even an increasingly purple one, it’s hard to see how that translates to electoral success outside of a faithfully blue district.

To be fair, the last election cycle proved that Republicans are vulnerable in the Trump era. Democrats won seats in Austin and even flipped several congressional districts thought to be solidly red.

But as with Davis’ bid for governor, the 2018 cycle in Texas was largely animated by a candidate near the top of the ticket, Beto O’Rourke, who like Davis enjoyed all sorts of undeserved glowing media attention and out-of-state donations based on one thing and one thing alone he wasn’t Ted Cruz.

Yet for reasons that have become strikingly clear in the months since his defeat and mounting of a listless presidential campaign, not even O’Rourke could defeat the most hated man in the Senate.

That’s because one-note campaigns are insulting.

And one-note candidates, especially those whose reputations are built on “reproductive rights”, are unlikely to succeed in a state where nearly half of voters would restrict abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

It’s possible Davis has learned from her defeat. It’s possible she’ll develop a platform and build a reputation on more than her penchant for abortion rights. It’s possible that she’ll defeat Roy, who, interestingly enough, is Cruz’s former chief of staff.

But she’d be far better suited for a role that fits what seems to be her dominant interest: president of Planned Parenthood.

I hear there is an opening.

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Cynthia Allen joined the Star-Telegram Editorial Board in 2014 after a decade of working in government and public affairs in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Editorial Board and writes a weekly opinion column on a wide array of topics, including politics, faith and motherhood.
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