TOPICS > Politics

Texas primaries could pave way for high-profile gubernatorial battle

March 3, 2014 at 8:52 PM EDT
If the leading candidates win their primaries, Republican Gregg Abbott will be pitted against Democrat Wendy Davis in a big-money, high-profile battle for Texas governor. Judy Woodruff talks to Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News about what could be Texas’ most competitive gubernatorial battle in years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This year’s primary election season officially gets under way tomorrow in Texas, where voters will decide on a number of races, including the nominees for governor.

While there is little doubt about the two candidates expected to win in each party, both have stumbled out of the gate.

High-profile and high-dollar, tomorrow’s Texas primaries could pave the way for the most competitive battle for governor here in years.

The Republican favorite, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is a paraplegic, has promoted his conservative views on social and economic issues.

GREG ABBOTT, R-Texas Gubernatorial Candidate: I want to see Texas move back into the top 10. Having a low tax structure its one of the best economic incentives that will attract business here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Abbott has also taken fire for campaigning alongside Ted Nugent, even after the rock musician referred to President Obama as a subhuman mongrel.

On the Democratic side:

MAN: Is it still your intention to filibuster?

WENDY DAVIS, D-Texas Gubernatorial Candidate: Yes, Mr. President.

JUDY WOODRUFF: State Senator Wendy Davis rocketed to national prominence in June after she temporarily derailed a Republican bill to impose tough new restrictions on abortions.

WENDY DAVIS: Laws are to create justice for all. We also received this written testimony. There is a medical necessity. Women need timely access.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Davis’s 11-hour filibuster made her an instant hit in her party. And, in October, she declared for governor. Since then, she’s faced scrutiny after parts of her personal story turned out to be inaccurate.

Texas voters also choose U.S. Senate nominees tomorrow. Incumbent Republican John Cornyn is expected to defeat a primary challenge by Tea Party Congressman Steve Stockman. Cornyn will also be favored in the general election.

And in the governor’s race, a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll gives Abbott the lead over Davis in November.

We take a closer look at the gubernatorial battle in the Lone Star State with Wayne Slater. He’s senior political writer for The Dallas Morning News.

Wayne Slater, welcome back to the program.

Tell us a little bit more about this governor’s contest. I guess there’s not a lot of attention about tomorrow’s primaries. People are already focusing on November.

Wendy Davis introducing herself to the voters, how has she done that?

WAYNE SLATER, The Dallas Morning News: Well, the campaign — Wendy Davis’ campaign decided at the very beginning that they were going to lead with her compelling personal narrative.

The narrative was that she was a divorced mother living in a trailer who worked her way up through Harvard Law School and success — electoral success now in the Texas Senate.

As you indicated in the setup piece, part of that story is not precisely true. And so she has stumbled coming out of the gate. By leading with that story, part of it true, part of it not precisely true, then it has, I think, confused some Democratic voters.

And in the case of Wendy Davis, running in a state where a Democrat has not won for governor since Ann Richards in 1990, she has to have everything there right for her, and probably a few things go wrong for her Republican opponent, likely opponent, Greg Abbott.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How did she handle it when your story came out?

WAYNE SLATER: Yes, she — they didn’t handle it well. The campaign was slow to respond. It was slow to respond well.

It took about 10 days before she had a really compelling speech here in Austin where she took issue with some elements in the story, appeared with one of her two daughters, as if to beat back any suggestion that she was anything other than a good mother. That was the implication not that my story brought, but that some critics reading the story suggested.

But it took 10 days, and the campaign was still in a state of flux, having some reporters not even being allowed to attend the speech, shutting out all but one group from the speech.

So it’s not a good and a propitious way for her campaign to begin. I think they understood that they have made errors. They need to project her message more successfully, because, it’s going to be, if those are the two nominees, a very sharp distinction for Texas voters in November between the Republican and Wendy Davis, the Democrat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about the Republican, Greg Abbott. As we said, he’s the conservative state attorney general.

What do voters know of him?


Yes. He’s been — unlike Wendy Davis, who is a relative newcomer here — even people in Texas have learned about her from her filibuster last year — Greg Abbott has been on the scene for two decades. He was a member of the Texas Supreme Court and for a decade has been the attorney general, very conservative.

As a conservative attorney general, he has touted the idea that he has stood up and fought all the way to the Supreme Court the right for the Texas — the Ten Commandments monument to remain on Texas grounds. He won that case. He is very big on Second Amendment rights.

I just saw a tweet from him the other day in which he was with some law enforcement people holding a semiautomatic weapon. He posed on the cover of “Texas Monthly” magazine with a gun, traditional campaign tactics here in Texas.

And, if he has one theme, frankly — it’s a theme that many Republicans this primary season have — it is that, I have — as attorney general, I have sued the Obama administration scores of times and won many of those suits, and I will stand against Obama in just about anything that the Obama administration wants to do.

That’s good stuff in a Republican primary. I’m not sure how it’s going to play in the general.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, if he’s striking so many notes that are playing well with voters, what is the — what is — what gives Wendy Davis’ campaign some hope?

WAYNE SLATER: A couple of things.

One, there’s a growing Hispanic population, obviously. This has been going on for years, Judy, and you have probably watched it over the years. The problem with the growing Hispanic population, which by 2020 will be a plurality in Texas and by 2030 will be a majority — Latinos will be a majority in the state — is that they’re not a majority yet. They’re not a plurality yet. And they don’t vote in numbers that reflect their population as a whole.

The Wendy Davis people and a group of Obama operatives from the last campaign set up shop here in something called Battleground Texas want to locate, identify, register, and turn out growing numbers of Hispanic voters. Disproportionately, these are voters who vote Democratic.

The other thing is that if Wendy Davis can sound the message to suburban women, moderate, even Republican-leaning women in Dallas, and Houston, and San Antonio, and Austin, then women will vote for her, because of her compelling story, who she is, advocacy for health rights, women’s rights and women’s health issues. Then she can win.

Ann Richards won for governor in 1990 by getting 61 percent of the woman vote. Wendy needs 60-61 percent of those women, plus a growing number of Hispanics. If she can get those two, even though it’s an uphill battle, she can win.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a contest the whole country is going to be watching.

Wayne Slater with The Dallas Morning News, thank you.