Politics
5:30 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

The Abortion Debate is Affecting Texas Politics, Left and Right

Last week, the Texas Senate passed  House Bill 2, restricting abortions in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry is expected to sign it in coming days, and the Texas Department of Health and Human Services is already gearing up to start implementing the changes. But even with that battle lost, some Democrats have dared to dream about what the abortion battle could mean for the 2014 elections.

The debate transformed Fort Worth State Sen. Wendy Davis from a rising star into a national superstar after her 11-hour filibuster during the first special session.

“Some here today will believe that this fight has been waged and won with this final vote that will be taken tonight,” Davis said on the night of HB 2’s passage. “They are wrong in so many ways, because the fight for the future of Texas is just beginning.”

However, it didn’t just raise her profile. It’s raised expectations for a Democratic Party that hasn’t won a statewide election in nearly two decades. Democratic strategist Jason Stanford says that the Democratic Party in Texas is waking up more than just the rank-and-file base.

“It is waking up, not just Democrats, but what I call cul-de-sac moms,” Sanford says. “The disengaged female voters who were out there who didn’t really know that this fight was going on.”

Once awakened, Stanford says, Democrats have to let them know other things going on.

“I don’t think people realize what is happening in their schools,” Stanford says. “I don’t think people realize that we turned down $115 billion to expand healthcare in this state. I think there are a lot of things that we can tell them what’s going on.”

The door to a more successful statewide run may have been opened, but Democrats need a big push to have any chance at running a close race. Republican strategist Ted Delisi is skeptical of the long-term affects the fight over abortion can have.

“I’m not skeptical about the fact that it has the ability to generate a lot of enthusiasm. And it certainly has catapulted Senator Davis into a place that she wouldn’t have been without that filibuster and the issue,” Delisi says. “But I’m less certain whether or not that issue can translate into true excitement in a general election or sustain a campaign for an entire election cycle.”

Of course, before the general, you’ve got to win a primary. Delisi says abortion almost always comes up in a Republican primary, sometimes as a bellwether for conservatism among primary candidates: “There is a time when in a Republican primary the life issue is used as kind of a proxy for how conservative a candidate is.”

And it could be an issue specifically in the GOP primary for Lt. Governor. One candidate, Houston State Senator Dan Patrick has blamed Lt. Governor David Dewhurst for allowing Senator Davis’s filibuster and not getting the bill passed in the first special session. And while Dewhurst, who will run for reelection, could never be mistaken as being for abortion rights.

Today he released a campaign video to strengthen his anti-abortion street cred – Patrick also released a similar video entitled "Pink Shoes." You can watch Dewhurst's video below. It’s called “Dewhurst: Defender of the Pre-Born.”

While Dewhurst and Patrick have been fishing for support among conservative Texans, a few former Presidential candidates have dropped in to Austin to boost the issue among national conservatives. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, chose to shame those in the GOP who have not joined the fight.

“You hear Republicans throughout the country saying, why are we talking about this? Why are people in Texas doing this? I wish these people would simply go away,” Santorum said on a recent visit.

But, Stanford says, that’s primary talk. And he adds, Santorum and others will need more of that in the general election. But Texas Democrats will need more much sooner just to keep the excitement levels up.

Which brings up back to Wendy Davis. As the time since her filibuster grows longer just how long can she wait before announcing a run?

“I certainly don’t see us wearing orange shirts in the New Year unless we have something to fight for,” Stanford says.

His advice to Davis: Announce sometime in September. His experience of previous campaigns shows people are too busy to pay attention in August.