No matter the outcome of last night's Texas legislative debate, it was clear to everyone watching that the world of politics had found itself a new hero in Wendy Davis, the tennis-shoe wearing, abortion-law filibustering State Senator who became a literal overnight sensation. Davis, who represents Texas's 10th Senate District, led the charge against the state's strict new abortion bill with an 11-hour marathon performance that had supporters echoing her name around the capitol dome.
Even if the bill somehow becomes law in the future, she already won a huge battle for liberals, for women, and her party's fortunes. And with that victory comes notoriety and a rise in her own political prospects. Democrats who didn't even know her name two days ago are already looking to hand her a starting spot in their national roster. If you're a political operative looking for a star, there's a lot to like about the 50-year-old Davis.
For starters, there's her inspiring biography. Raised by a single mother, she became a single mother herself at just 19 years old, but still found time and energy to go from junior college to the top of her class at Texas Christian University and then graduate from Harvard Law School. She worked as lawyer in the Fort Worth area for several years, before joining the city council (while continuing to practice law, of course). In 2008, she knocked off a two-term Republican incumbent — the only incumbent to not get re-elected that year — to win a spot in the State Senate. Her office even survived a fire bombing during her re-election campaign last year. (Though that was probably unrelated to politics.)
That's a pretty good resumé, even before you get to her habit of making principled stands in the legislature. This wasn't even her first filibuster, either. In 2011, she "torpedoed" a budget battle (and forced a special legislative session) in a fight over the state's plan to slash public school budgets. That made her a major thorn in the side of Republicans and hero to always undermanned Democrats of Texas. Even back then, there were rumblings of a future run for governor. After last night, a statewide race will almost feel like an inevitability.
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If she launched her campaign tomorrow, she'd have no problem filling the donation box, thanks to her legion of new fans that spreads far beyond Austin. (The same goes for Letitia Van de Putte, last night's other Democratic hero, who left her own father's funeral yesterday to give Davis her biggest assist.) The filibuster quickly became a win-win situation for Davis. If she made it through the 13 hours, she would kill the detested bill. If she lost in a valiant effort, it could only win more sympathy to the cause and draw ire down upon the state's bullying majority. Just as she rasied her own public profile, Republicans like Sen. Bill Zedler and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst managed to turn themselves into national villains.
We had terrorist in the Texas State Senate opposing SB 5— Bill Zedler (@Bill_Zedler) June 26, 2013
There is no doubt that the procedural roadblocks (or dirty tricks, depending on who you ask) thrown up by the GOP actually helped her cause. When the news broke online that Davis was forced to yield the floor after more than 11 hours of speaking, that only galvanized her supporters and sucked in more viewers to the Texas Tribune's livestream of the hearing. More than 170,000 viewers tuned in at the peak of the drama, with many more following the action on Twitter. (Her own account went from about 1,200 followers on Monday to more than 60,000 today.)
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If the dream of "turning Texas blue" is ever going to come to fruition, no one appears better positioned to lead the charge that Davis. She would face quite an uphill climb should she decide to challenge Rick Perry for the governorship or even go after a U.S. Senate seat, but now that she's on the national stage, even a spot in the U.S. House of Represenatives could make her a household name. (She faces her own re-election next year, but should be a huge favorite now if she decides to stay in her current job, even if the GOP makes her seat a target.) From there, it could be anything from a Cabinet position to a major judicial appointment to ... who knows?
No one knew who State Senator Obama was in 2003. Perry & Cornyn are both on the ballot next year and Wendy Davis is a star now.— Ben Jacobs (@benhjacobs) June 26, 2013
For now, she'll join the Joaquin and Julio Castro in the vanquard of the young new Texas Democrats, looking to win back the south from the GOP and will be one of the most sought after campaign-stop partners of 2014. (You might as well book her 2016 convention keynote right now.) Not many Democrats make it out of Texas to the national stage these days, but Davis the hard part is already done. For now, she can enjoy her victory and try to keep the momentum rolling into next year.