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Wendy Davis Waits to Decide About Governor—And the Pressure Builds

On Thursday, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis sent out word that she would not be announcing any plans for her political future before Labor Day, as she had originally promised, because her father is in the hospital. Democrats—who have been hoping the fiery Davis will run for the governor’s mansion ever since her star-making 11-hour filibuster for abortion rights in June—will have to hold their breath a little longer. “I will not be making any official announcement related to my future plans for public office so that I can focus on the continued care and recovery of my father,” Davis said in a statement. “It's my hope that he will be able to join me and my family in the next few weeks when I make a public announcement.”

As I wrote when I heard Davis speak in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of August, she certainly acted like someone gearing up for a big run. Her bipartisan, jobs-centric rhetoric was clearly aimed at broadening her identity, which has been closely linked to reproductive rights ever since her filibuster. “I can say with absolute certainty that I will run for one of two offices, either my state senate seat or the governor,” she said at the time. It’s worth noting that her odds aren’t hugely different in her purple-shading-red senate district than in the state at-large, which hasn’t elected a Democrat in almost two decades.

In lieu of any actual news about Davis, the media spent the last 24 hours making do with a spate of speculation. Here are the most interesting tidbits from the latest bout of Davis mania. 

Friends are urging her to run

“Ms. Davis… has spent August engaging in a private inquiry into the viability of a race for which independent analysts put the chances of her success somewhere between a long shot and a pipe dream,” writes The New York Times. “What trusted advisers, pollsters, fund-raisers and friends are telling her, they said in interviews, is that there is a path to victory, even in Texas, where no Democrat has won statewide office in nearly two decades.”

Davis cuts a memorable figure, from her looks—diminutive with a large platinum coiffe—to her personal story—she was raised by a single mother with a sixth-grade education, and became the first person in her family to graduate from college, and then from Harvard Law School, after becoming a teenage mom herself. (The father Davis is caring for walked out on her family when she was young.) The Times reports that Davis’s cohort believes she has a shot if she plays down the abortion issue, and plays up her unlikely narrative:

Researchers presented Ms. Davis with private polling that showed she was better known for her personality than for her positions. They also prepared an analysis of the nearly 900,000 Twitter messages in the 24 hours around her filibuster in June, which temporarily halted a bill to ban abortion in Texas after 20 weeks. A high percentage of those messages focused on her physical ordeal. “Probably the biggest benefit of this filibuster is Wendy is known statewide and she’s known as a fighter, and that plays very well in Texas,” said Matt Angle, an adviser to Ms. Davis. 

By the numbers, as my colleague Nate Cohn has written, Davis’s chances are almost laughably bad. But the Times suggests there are still reasons for Democrats to hope she will run:

Liberal groups in Texas are hungry for her star power to energize the moribund state Democratic Party. Political operatives smell the money that a richly financed Democratic campaign, which early estimates put at $40 million, would direct their way. And national Democrats know a Davis campaign would force the Republican Governors Association to divert millions from more competitive races in Ohio, Florida and Michigan to the Lone Star State.

She raised $1.2 million in the six weeks after her filibuster

Politico reports that Davis has shown impressive pull at the grassroots level. “She reported almost 24,000 individual donors — with an average donation to her campaign of about $52. About 60 percent of her funds came from inside the Lone Star State.” Unfortunately, the result is just a drop in the bucket. Texas attorney general Greg Abbott, who will almost definitely win the Republican nomination to replace Governor Rick Perry, has already raised over $20 million. To challenge him, Davis-ites told the Times they think their fearless leader needs about $40 million to drop on the race.

The Politico story names a few of Davis’s biggest donors. Some are expected— the Texas-based feminist group Annie’s List gave $50,000 to her state senate campaign—while others are quirkier— Marguerite Hoffman, wife of the businessman and National Lampoon co-founder Robert Hoffman, gave $10,000. The Dallas Morning News has a few more:

Her biggest out-of-state donors were labor unions and Planned Parenthood. Others include $2,500 from California film producer Regina Scully, whose recent documentaries deal with the subjects of rape in the military and law professor Anita Hill; $2,500 from Eugene Zagat of New York, publisher of the dining guide; and $500 from Kirk Adams, husband of Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. 

Texas Democrats are already recruiting her running mates

The Morning News reports that Democratic operatives in Texas are already strategizing about a deep 2014 ticket and have started approaching legislators about the role of lieutenant governor. Their dream running mate for Davis would be Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio: “The veteran lawmaker acknowledged Wednesday that she had been approached about running for lieutenant governor by business leaders and some Democrats. She said she would consider running for the post, now held by Republican David Dewhurst, once Davis makes her plans public.” 

Van de Putte, Davis’s colleague in the state senate, also made headlines the night of the filibuster. The day before, Republicans had tried to hold the vote without Van de Putte—one of only eleven pro-abortion rights members of the state’s upper chamber—who was absent to attend her father’s funeral. While Davis was holding the floor the next day, Van de Putte went straight from the service to the legislature, where she helped fend off Republicans who wanted to end the filibuster in time to pass the bill. “Did the President hear me or did the President hear me and refuse to recognize me?” she asked. “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” 

In some sunny alternate universe where Davis and Van de Putte could be elected to the top two jobs in Texas’s state government, that question would become somewhat less pressing. In the meantime, Davis is still contemplating her next move. 

Nora Caplan-Bricker is an assistant editor at The New Republic. Follow her on Twitter @NCaplanBricker.