Wendy Davis: Democratic gubernatorial candidate makes pit stop in Tyler

Published on Saturday, 15 March 2014 22:47 - Written by Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

If Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Wendy Davis faces an uphill battle statewide, she faces a mountain in East Texas. But facing tough odds didn’t dissuade more than 200 supporters from packing the patio at Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q on Saturday to see the star Democrat.

Robert Odom, of Tyler, who considers himself a moderate and who leans Democratic, views Sen. Davis as a willing listener and voice for all Texans and described GOP candidate Greg Abbott as “just another (Rick) Perry.” He said he thinks change would do Texas good.

“Democrats care more about middle-class Texans and creating jobs, and there are certain issues government should stay out of and let people live how they will,” he said. “We don’t need another crony guy in the governor’s mansion, and that’s what Abbott is.”

Abbott and Sen. Davis face each other in the November general election.

Sen. Davis touted her role in the Senate where she fought for more education funding, increased regulation of predatory pay-day lenders, and women’s rights, including equal pay and health care access. She focused on her role as a voice for district constituents, and her desire to serve 26 million Texans in the same way.

“It’s time we have someone in the governor’s office, who rather than defending business as usual, is going to defend and fight for the people in this state and make sure they have the brightest future possible,” she said.

But Democratic gubernatorial candidates have produced lackluster results in Smith, Cherokee, Gregg, Henderson and Van Zandt counties, where Republican Rick Perry dominated the 2006 and 2010 elections.

Perry received less than 50 percent of the vote statewide in the 2006 general election where he faced Democrat Chris Bell and independents Richard “Kinky” Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn. But he received 54.7 percent of the Smith County vote and averaged 46.8 percent in those five counties compared to 19.6 percent for Bell.

Bell averaged 20.9 percent in the five counties, where even Ms. Strayhorn, a former GOP comptroller, outpaced him.

Democrat Bill White fared better in 2010 but barely broke the 30 percent mark in those counties despite almost a dozen campaign visits during the primary and general elections.

A pre-primary Rassmussen poll had Abbott leading Sen. Davis by 12 percentage points.

But White never inspired the excitement Sen. Davis created Saturday.

“I would say she faces a steeper grade, but the enthusiasm here blows my mind for this early in the campaign,” Smith County Democratic Party Chairman David Henderson said amid the crowd of supporters. “If this excitement carries and builds, we might just shock the world.”

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, showed up to see his Senate colleague and act as an Abbott surrogate. He said he respects Sen. Davis for her work in the Senate and standing for what she believes in, but they disagree on policy.

“My hope is this campaign is run clean and based on the issues,” he said. “If you run on the Second Amendment, and for protecting life and running the state like a business, that’s what most Texans want.”

Cathy Woodson, of Chandler, said Sen. Davis’ fight for women’s rights is the primary reason she came Saturday. She said male legislators should not dictate women’s decisions about their bodies.

“I grew up in the era where abortions were illegal, and the only choice for women was back alley abortions,” she said. “Nobody wants abortions to happen, but they do, and we need to protect the health care choices of women.”

Sen. Davis said the enthusiasm surrounding her campaign has been evident on similar stops across the state. She said supporters could look to the battle she faced in her own Senate district in 2008 and 2012, as a reason to believe in her bid.

“I was written off by every political pundit in the state. Every one said I couldn’t win a district drawn for a Republican to represent, but people came out and elected a fighter to the Texas Senate,” she said. “But people around the state believe we can do this and believing is half the battle.”