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Texas Democrats Pledge 'Openness' but Face Divides

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The crowd heard from state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, on Friday as she campaigns to become governor of Texas. (Published Friday, Jun 27, 2014)

    Wendy Davis gave restless Texas Democrats craving momentum in her bid for governor a fiery pep talk Friday night, relentlessly bashing Republican rival Greg Abbott and bringing her family back in front of the public.

    Out to breathe new excitement into her most devoted supporters -- many of whom had hoped Davis would be faring better with four months until Election Day -- the Fort Worth state senator gave the Texas Democratic Convention a new glimpse of her populist message and her two adult daughters who have largely stayed out of the campaign.

    But she set her sights mostly on Abbott. His name came up 30 times in a speech that hammered the longtime Texas attorney general on his office defending $5 billion in classroom cuts in an ongoing school finance lawsuit and characterizing him as an entrenched political insider.

    "Don't clap too much or Greg Abbott will sue you," Davis said. "He says he goes to work, sues the federal government and goes home. He's so proud of it. But what Greg Abbott doesn't say is that our judges go to work, they rule against him and the people win."

    It was a nod to Abbott boasting about filing about 30 lawsuits against Washington since President Barack Obama took office. Meanwhile, the state is likely to lose in court against more than 600 school districts that claim the deep cuts to classrooms in 2011 were unconstitutional.

    Earlier this month at the Texas Republican Convention, Abbott didn't Davis during his speech to delegates. Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said Friday night that Davis was resorting to "desperate attacks that are the result of a floundering campaign."

    Davis' daughters, Amber and Dru, introduced their mom to thousands of delegates at the Dallas Convention Center. Davis launched her campaign in October heavily focused on telling her narrative from going from a teenage single mother in a trailer park to Harvard Law School. Small discrepancies later found in that story, however, opened her up to attacks from critics.

    A Democrat hasn't been elected to a statewide office in Texas since 1994, the longest such string of defeats in the nation.

    Davis became a Democratic sensation nationally with a 12-plus hour Texas Senate filibuster last summer that temporarily delayed passage of strict abortion restrictions statewide. The party hopes she and lieutenant governor hopeful Leticia Van de Putte can woo women voters, young Texans and independents.

    Delegates are also hoping to expand the base by approving an official party platform that stresses openness and inclusion. That's in contrast to Texas Republicans, who at their convention in Fort Worth wrote a platform with a hard-line stance on immigration and an endorsement of therapy to turn gay people straight.

    In another stark difference, joining Van de Putte and Davis in speaking on the convention floor Friday was Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay.

    The final Democratic platform will be Saturday.

    More openness could mean defying traditional Democratic values or taking positions that alienate some voters. That tension was on display in Friday meetings of Democrats who support gun rights and oppose abortion and the death penalty.

    "If we're going to be a big tent, it has to go both ways," said James White, a Texas Democratic Executive Committee member who addressed a gun-owner caucus.

    Similar sentiment came from Lois Kerschen, who has been coming to Texas Democratic Conventions for 42 years but opposes abortion and is on the board of directors of Democrats for Life of America. She said most women get abortions because of economic circumstances and that expanding social programs could change that.

    "You can't shove us out of the party," Kerschen said. "Put pro-life Democrats as candidates and you are going to win. We haven't done that in Texas and we're losing."