By Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman (MCT)
AUSTIN, Texas — Republican Greg Abbott has defeated Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor. Shortly after 8 p.m., when the polls closed in El Paso, The Associated Press called the race for Abbott.
With about 40 percent of the vote counted, almost entirely early ballots, Attorney General Abbott held a commanding lead over state Sen. Davis.
With more than 2 million votes tallied, Abbott was leading Davis 58 percent to 41 percent, according to figures posted by the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said that the total turnout will probably end up between 5 million and 5.5 million voters. Republicans tend to do better with early voters, but Jones said Davis still appears headed to a double-digit defeat.
Victory would be the culmination of Abbott’s personal climb following a 1984 accident that left him a paraplegic to what has been an unbroken run of political success, from his appointment by Gov. George W. Bush and ultimate election and re-election to the State Supreme Court to three terms as attorney general, where he methodically laid the groundwork to succeed Gov. Rick Perry and extend Republican control of the governor’s office into its third decade.
From Day One of the campaign, it was Abbott’s to lose, and he didn’t lose it.
“She never stood a chance,” said Jones. “The fundamental of Texas identity is that it’s a red state and that absent Greg Abbott making a monumental error or serial gaffes, Wendy Davis was never going to win.”
In the most practiced parlance of the Davis campaign, Abbott was an Austin “insider” protecting the interests of his rich and powerful friends at the expense of “hard-working Texans.”
But, what virtually any Texan with a television set learned as a consequence of Abbott’s saturation television advertising was that Abbott had persevered despite being in a wheelchair, that his mother-in-law was a Mexican-American who thought very highly of him, and that Wendy Davis was politically a Barack Obama clone, in a state where the president is as unpopular as anywhere in the country.
Battleground Texas, the creation of veterans of the Obama presidential campaigns, planted its flag in Texas in February 2013 with what they said was a long and patient time horizon for laying the groundwork for Democrats to become competitive in Texas. But that timetable was dramatically accelerated when Davis entered the race as a candidate who, thanks to the Texas Senate filibuster seen round the world, generated an all-bets-are-off excitement that had the political world atwitter.
But, said political scientist Joshua Blank, who manages both the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll and the Texas Lyceum poll, that very excitement also loosed many Democrats, in Texas and around the country, from a more sober appreciation of the enormity of the task at hand.
“Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas created a set of expectations that were wildly unrealistic and probably helped the Republicans re-energize their coalition in ways they might have had trouble with after a grueling primary and runoff and fissures within the party over just how conservative to be,” Blank said.
Abbott did not appear at all hindered by a statewide ticket that bore the imprint of Tea Party voters who held sway in the party’s contentious primary and runoffs, particularly in the contest for lieutenant governor and attorney general, where Tea Party favorites state Sens. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton prevailed over more establishment candidates, incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Rep. Dan Branch
“Davis showed some promise early but that promise was somewhat illusory,” Blank said.
In the immediate aftermath of her abortion filibuster, Davis was actually better known to voters than Abbott and, the particulars of the abortion issue aside, her introduction to the broader public had a heroic aspect to it. But, over time, the electorate settled back into its partisan corners, which in Texas is a huge advantage for a Republican, and Abbott came into the race with a $21 million advantage over Davis that he more than maintained amid strong fundraising by both campaigns, enabling him to control the airwaves right up until Tuesday.
Over time, polls found, voters came to hold a generally favorable view of Abbott and an unfavorable view of Davis.
Abbott was hoping to run up the score Tuesday, both as the source of a personal mandate, but also to dispirit efforts, both homegrown and imported, to turn Texas into a battleground state in state and national elections.
Obama appeared to be all downside for Davis. The border and immigration are top issues in Texas, especially among conservatives, and Obama’s failure to visit the border during his stop in Texas earlier this year effectively ceded the issue to Texas Republicans, even as his decision to postpone any action on immigration reform disappointed some in the Latino community whose enthusiasm Davis was depending on to make a race of it.
In other states where Latinos have propelled Democratic fortunes — such as California, Nevada and Colorado — Democrats win 70 percent to 80 percent or more of the Latino vote. Not so in Texas, where the entire electorate is more conservative, and Democratic margins with Latinos are less overwhelming.
The Abbott campaign sought to inoculate itself against the insider charge by attacking Davis in ads and billboards as ethically suspect, even corrupt, trading her influence in the Texas Senate and before that on the Fort Worth City Council for title work and legal clients.
Abbott sought to defend himself against the accusation that — on issues from border security to voter ID — he and his party are hostile to the interests of Latino Texans by playing to the hilt the fact that his wife, Cecilia, would be the first Latino first lady in Texas history, and spending more time and money than previous Republican candidates in the heavily Latino Rio Grande Valley.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr