HALTOM CITY, Texas (AP) — Democrat Wendy Davis promised a more populist and bipartisan state government in Texas as she declared her long-anticipated candidacy for governor Thursday, but she didn't mention abortion rights, the subject that brought her to national attention.
Speaking before a hometown crowd where she received her high school diploma, the Fort Worth state senator tried to stake out the middle ground, vowing to represent the working class and improve public education, economic development and health care to Texas.
"Texans don't want to sit back and watch Austin turn into Washington, D.C.," Davis said. "State leaders in power keep forcing people to opposite corners to prepare for a fight instead of coming together to get things done."
Davis has said that her experience going from being a single teen mother living in a trailer to a successful Harvard-trained attorney in the Texas Senate informed her political views. She said Texas needed to be "a lot less lone and a lot more star."
"Until the families who are burning the candle at both ends can finally make ends meet, we will keep going. Until the amazing health care advances being pioneered in this state reach everyone who needs them, we will keep going," she said to about 1,500 people at the Wiley G. Thomas Coliseum.
Davis then blasted "the current leadership" in Austin for creating a partisan atmosphere and appealing to the right wing of the Republican party.
"Texans deserve better than failed leaders who dole out favors to friends and cronies behind closed doors," she said. "It's time for a governor who believes that you don't have to buy a place in Texas' future. It's time for a governor who believes that the future of Texas belongs to all of us."
Republican Gov. Rick Perry has chosen not to seek re-election next year. The front-runner for the GOP nomination is Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that Davis is too liberal for Texas.
Davis rose to national prominence in June for her nearly 13-hour filibuster against new abortion restrictions in Texas, but she didn't mention the subject Thursday. Instead, she talked about her 2011 filibuster to block passage of the state budget after the Republican majority cut $5 billion for public schools.
Davis' opponents plan to use her support for abortion rights to rally conservative Christian voters next fall. About 40 anti-abortion demonstrators marched outside the venue where Davis was speaking Thursday, and Texas Right to Life plans to begin airing an ad over the weekend that calls her an "abortion zealot."
Abbott called her filibuster "inconsequential" and sought to tie her to President Barack Obama.
"Obama's political operation is the muscle behind Wendy Davis' political operation," Abbott said. "She is an extremist with regards to imposing the kind of spending and regulation that's reckless for government."
If her defense of abortion rights angered the right, it inspired Democrats who urged her to run for governor in 2014 and reinvigorate a party that hasn't won statewide office since 1994. Her speech in the Legislature also added to her donor list, both in Texas and across the country.
"I thought the filibuster was inspiring and it seems like she really cares about people," said Amanda Fisher, a 24-year-old from Dallas. Fisher said she was considering volunteering for a political campaign for the first time.
At a watch party in McAllen, a city along the border with Mexico, retired hospice chaplain Elizabeth Gearhart said Davis could help Democrats.
"She's going to inspire everyone. She's especially going to inspire women," Gearhart said. "And there's a lot of us."
Davis must raise money quickly to compete with Abbott, He has already raised $25 million to her more than $1 million.
Experts say Davis and the political action committees supporting her will need to spend about $40 million to make it a competitive campaign in Texas, where Democrats have not won more than 42 percent of the vote in the last three elections.
But national Democratic support and changing state demographics give Davis a chance to end the party's 20-year losing streak in Texas, Democratic consultants say.
Davis' personal story — from a trailer park to Texas Christian University to the Harvard Law School — has captured the imagination of many of her supporters.
She was a successful attorney when she decided to enter politics by challenging a veteran Republican state senator in Tarrant County in 2008. She narrowly won that race and a tough re-election bid in 2012, when most voters in her district cast ballots for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber and Chris Sherman contributed to this story from McAllen, Texas.
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