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Wendy Davis Lone Star for Texas Democrats in 2014

By Paul J. Weber
|  Friday, Sep 27, 2013  |  Updated 8:06 PM CDT
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Wendy Davis Lone Star for Texas Dems in 2014

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State Sen. Wendy Davis will launch her campaign for Texas governor next week riding a wave of national celebrity and fundraising power that hapless Democrats have craved for two winless decades against Republicans, whose statewide dominance has built a launch pad for GOP presidential aspirants.

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Stand with Wendy? Sure. But running with Wendy Davis in 2014 is less enticing for big-name Texas Democrats.

Davis will launch her campaign for Texas governor next week riding a wave of national celebrity and fundraising power that hapless Democrats have craved for two winless decades against Republicans, whose statewide dominance has built a launch pad for GOP presidential aspirants.

But missing for Davis, the state senator propelled to political fame with an 11-hour filibuster that temporarily blocked new Texas abortion restrictions, are headliner running mates to boost her underdog bid. That is despite the potential for a heavyweight Democratic ticket in 2014, including San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a top surrogate of President Barack Obama.

Instead, Davis will have to win Texas as a lone star.

"It's going to require all hands on deck. If you ask me, that should be our focus," said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, another top Democrat who is sitting out 2014. "Whether that means we don't put a full team on the field, I'll have that debate with anybody. I'd rather be a foot deep as opposed to a foot wide."

It's also a reminder how the voter landscape in Texas remains unfavorable to the Democrats -- and Davis' chances of an upset.

Even if Davis seizes on her star power and raises enough to financially compete with Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose campaign has already socked away more than $20 million, money isn't the only reason Democrats haven't won a statewide office since 1994. Democratic strategists, including those who ran Obama's re-election bid, believe Texas demographics and politics are shifting in their favor but the gains are still years away.

Just four months ago, Democrats seemed pressed to find a willing gubernatorial candidate with name recognition in Texas, much less nationwide. Then Davis laced up her now-famous pink running shoes on the floor of the Texas Senate on June 25, and ran out the clock on a special legislative session that Gov. Rick Perry had ordered to pass pet conservative measures in a symbol of Republican power.

Thousands of abortion-rights supporters that night packed the Texas Capitol to root on the second-term senator. Tens of thousands more watched the filibuster live on YouTube, and the Twitter hashtag "StandwithWendy" trended worldwide.

Long-suffering Democrats instantly began urging Davis to run for governor. Two Democrats with knowledge of her decision told The Associated Press on Thursday that Davis will announce her candidacy Oct. 3 as widely expected, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to pre-empt the official campaign launch.

But from lieutenant governor to agriculture commissioner, there are still no Democratic candidates.

Contrast that with Republicans, who are on pace to have competitive primary fights across the board. It comes after rising GOP leaders stifled pent-up ambitions while Perry held onto the governor's office for a record 14 years, thwarting many from moving up the ladder.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, one of four Republicans running for lieutenant governor, was unfazed Friday by the threat of Democratic victories next year.

"When the primary and runoff are over in May, I'm going to take some time off," said Patterson, shrugging off the competitiveness of the general election.

Patterson's likely successor at the state land commission is Republican George P. Bush, who is running for the office in his political debut.

Most rumored to run with Davis in the lieutenant governor slot is state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, which would create only the fourth all-female gubernatorial ticket in the country. The third was launched this summer in New Jersey, where two women are Democratic challengers against Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who may run for president in 2016.

Democratic state Sen. Carlos Uresti has also publicly discussed a possible run for attorney general.

First-year U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is Julian's twin and also a rising Democrat on the national state, rejected criticism that they and other top Democrats are leaving Davis to fend for herself while they wait for more favorable voting trends.

Castro said the Democratic ticket is shaping up to be strong enough to give voters choices they haven't had in years.

"It would've been more strange for me to be in my first term of Congress and turn right around and decide that I'm going to run for another office," Castro said. "I'm going to be supportive of all of them. Everyone has to decide on their own timing."

Associated Press writer Will Weissert contributed to this report.

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