Democratic governor candidate Wendy Davis has jabbed for months at her Republican rival, Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, for things like defending in court the Texas Legislature’s slashing of school spending.
He has ignored her. With $20 million-plus squirreled away before Davis even announced, his political gurus think no one’s paying attention. They don’t want a fight that could swing the spotlight to her.
But the Fort Worth senator, who’s giving up her Senate seat to run for governor, got the Abbott team’s attention when she claimed she raised more money in the last half of 2013 than he did –– $12.2 million to his $11.5 million.
Abbott’s campaign dropped its radio silence, accusing Davis of “fuzzy math.” That is, not wrong enough to be incorrect. More about that in a minute.
Davis is engaged in the seriously uphill task of trying to become the first Democrat to win a statewide race in Texas since 1994. She’s doing it the hard way, because the old Texas Democratic Party was based around candidates more than an effective, self-supporting party organization.
In the one-party Democratic days half a century ago, the battles were intraparty dogfights in the Democratic primary, based on candidates’ own organizations, name identification, and popularity.
If the Democratic Party needed to raise money, it did it by asking candidates –– particularly its statewide incumbents –– to share their own campaign swag.
But Republicans went from having just two statewide elected officials in 1987 to all of them in 1999. Presidential candidates of both major parties passed up competing in rapidly Republican-trending Texas, featuring the Bush Dynasty.
So the Democrats no longer had the money or organizational manpower of Democratic presidential campaigns or the fund-raising leverage of incumbent statewide officeholders.
Now Davis hopes to help bring a vigorous Democratic Party out of the ashes –– with her campaign as the rallying point.
There are millions of disgruntled Democrats tired of being run over. But the challenge for Democrats is to identify folks who share their beliefs but seldom if ever vote, and then see that they do.
Back to the fund-raising math. How “fuzzy” is it?
Davis’ campaign got headlines by hinting at raising more than $10 million between July and December.
On Jan. 14, she said her report would show she’d raised $12.2 million. That topped Abbott’s $11.5 million the next day.
The Abbott campaign pointed out that Davis claimed not just her own income of $8.7 million, but added $3.5 million from the “Texas Victory Committee.”
That’s a joint fund-raising and organizational effort between her campaign and the Democrats’ “Battleground Texas,” a party-building effort. It’s headed by some of the same field operatives who oversaw President Barack Obama’s scorched-earth voter turnout operations in swing states in 2008 and again in 2012.
Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project, a progressive Democratic group, and a strong supporter of Davis, said the addition is justified. Every dollar raised for the joint operation is a dollar aimed at electing her governor, Angle said.
Davis’ campaign and Battleground Texas “understand that infrastructure doesn’t build itself,” Angle said. Battleground Texas can work on the organization, and Davis can help raise the money to get it done.
The Republicans countered that if money being spent on other GOP campaigns was added to Abbott’s total, it would exceed hers by a few million –– plus all that money he already had in the bank.
But Davis and the Democrats hope that with the help and experience of Battleground Texas, avid grassroots support, and lots of outside money, they can exceed the $40 million Angle says is needed to be competitive and to mount a closer-than-expected battle.
Let’s compare Texas turnout figures from the 2010 off-year governor’s election and the 2012 presidential election –– which had 60 percent more voters.
What if Davis and the Democrats could muster a presidential-year turnout, while Abbott and the Republicans get the normal off-year turnout?
Unlikely. But if Abbott gets the same total vote in 2014 that he got in winning re-election as attorney general with 64 percent in 2010, and Davis gets the same vote Barack Obama did in losing Texas with 41.4 percent in 2012, she’d win by more than 150,000 votes.
Never happen. Apples and oranges.
But interesting to think about.
Veteran Texas journalist Dave McNeely can be reached at email@example.com.