Taking hold of Texas

Texas has long been the Democratic Party’s white whale, its version of New Jersey — temptingly close, but ultimately beyond reach. Despite a demographic profile that would suggest a competitive landscape, Republicans are currently enjoying a 20-year unbeaten streak at the statewide level in the Lone Star State. And, truth be told, Democrats haven’t put up much of a fight during that time. 

Part of the reason is that Democratic base groups simply have not voted in proportion to their size. In fact, Texas Latinos rank 51st in the nation in turnout. Had Latinos voted at the same rate as their white counterparts in 2012, Mitt Romney’s 16-point victory would’ve been cut to about 5 points. And earlier elections were just as bad: Just 38 percent of eligible Texas Latinos voted in 2008, and an even more pathetic 23 percent went to the polls in the GOP’s 2010 wave year. Meanwhile, young Texans don’t perform much better. While 62 percent of voters age 30 and older participated in the 2008 elections, just 39 percent of those younger than 30 turned out. 

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In short, Texas Democrats have been suffused with a deep malaise. They seemed content to wait for demographic evolution to provide them with a clear electoral majority, perhaps around 2024.

Well, that timeline was accelerated last week. As part of their war on women, Texas Republicans pushed draconian legislation designed to shut down the bulk of the state’s legal abortion clinics. But Democrats fought back, led by state Sen. Wendy Davis’s epic 11-hour filibuster to kill the bill in the wee hours of the legislative session. 

That filibuster was particularly impressive given the state’s stringent filibuster rules. A senator must take the floor and speak continuously on topic, with no pauses allowed, no bathroom breaks, no lunch breaks, no yielding the floor to a colleague. If the senator so much as leans on the podium, the filibuster is broken. Yet Davis survived all those restrictions and literally stood firm in the face of extreme adversity as thousands of supporters watched at the state Capitol and more than 200,000 watched online around the country. 

Virtually every national progressive group launched “thanks Wendy Davis” petitions the next day, further propelling the Texas Democrat into the national limelight. Within 48 hours of her stand, Daily Kos saw more than 50,000 sign a petition urging her to run for governor, with tens of thousands of dollars donated in a down payment to what would be an extremely expensive race. And on Amazon, the pink sneakers she wore during the filibuster catapulted to No. 1 on their best-selling running shoes list. 

Back in January, a Public Policy Polling survey found Davis trailing Gov. Rick Perry (R) by just 47 percent to 41 percent, but that was before the state and the nation were introduced to her and her phenomenal story: the single mother living in a trailer park who managed to graduate first in her class at Texas Christian University and earn a Harvard Law degree. Davis is now actively considering a gubernatorial bid, and thousands in Texas and around the country are cheering her on. 

Texas Democrats have spent the past few decades exporting their political dollars out of state, unable to do much at home. Their excitement over a Davis candidacy is understandable. But the national reaction points to something else.

It seems that the hunger for a crusading Texan champion extended far beyond the state’s borders. 

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)