Texas Democrats see themselves as having at least one potential advantage in next year’s statewide elections: two women at the top of the ticket.
Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and lieutenant governor hopeful Leticia van de Putte are hoping to attract more women voters to the polls.
But both Democrats and Republicans in Texas have particular challenges in courting the female vote.
Candidates running for statewide office in Texas next year may want to keep the following in mind:
"Women are a very important portion of the electorate. They cast more votes than men do," says political science Professor Cal Jillson from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Nationally, women tend to cast ballots for Democrats at a higher rate than for Republicans. That’s the case in Texas, too, but by a narrower margin. But here’s the challenge to Democratic candidates: Men are more likely to vote Republican. And white female married voters follow their husbands 90 percent of the time, Jillson says.
"So the idea that suburban white married women are going to break away from their husbands and the Republican party and vote for Wendy Davis is unlikely," Jillson says.
But – Jillson adds – unmarried women and especially minority women are potential Wendy Davis voters.
So far Davis has pretty much avoided the issue that threw her into the national spotlight – abortion rights. Don’t expect her to focus on that anyhow. Women, Jillson says, generally want to hear about education and health care.
"So the Davis campaign will talk to women about their children’s education, about access to health care and about women’s rights more than specifically access to abortion," he says.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who’s running for lieutenant governor, agrees.
"Even though our Republican opponents are gonna try to make it into a one issue, women aren’t that dumb. We know what’s important to our families and our neighborhoods," Van de Putte says.
But on some issues, Republicans might have an edge in Texas.
"With respect to what Republican candidates up and down the ballot can do to court female voters, they can point to their stewardship of state government and claim credit for some of the state’s economic growth," says political science Professor Paul Kellstedt, who teaches at Texas A&M University.
After all – both men and women have an interest in an expanding economy, Kellstedt says.
But Republicans are expected to bring up traditional values when they reach out to women voters. Like in a recent TV ad from Jerry Patterson – who’s running for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor: "My mom Georgia was born in 1923. She knew hard times. She was a strong Texas woman. My mom taught me to tell the truth, have no fear and never back down from the fight," he says in the ad.
Jillson from SMU says men tend to be interested in small government and low taxes. That also appeals to women, but not if the low taxes compromise education or impact access to health care. Candidates have until March 4 to get their message out, that’s primary election day.