Good News (In Disguise) For Wendy Davis

We’ve been saying for a while that Wendy Davis has a fighting chance in the Texas governor’s race, and a new state poll suggests that we’re not crazy. The election is more than a year away, but the Texas Tribune's latest survey has surprisingly good news for Davis and her supporters, considering the partisan composition of the state and the GOP’s massive financial advantage. The Tribune survey has likely Republican nominee Greg Abbott leading Davis by six points, 40-34, with 25 percent of voters undecided. When you add Libertarian candidate Kathie Glass into the mix, Abbott’s lead shrinks to five points. So Davis is behind – but there's a good chance she won't stay that way.

Firstly, six points is far from an insurmountable lead. Just ask Ann Richards, who came back from a 26-point deficit in 1990 to win the governor's mansion. It's also a far smaller gap than you’d expect in a race that some publications, such as Texas Monthly, have already called in favor of Abbott. Also, consider two other findings in the poll.

  • 25 percent of voters — a quarter of the whole electorate — hasn’t yet made up their minds. That’s four times the size of Abbott’s current lead. So the next year will matter, and Davis has a large pool of voters from which to draw future support.
  • A poll from a month ago showed Davis trailing Abbott by eight points, with 50 percent undecided. In the last month, then, half of previously undecided voters have finally made up their minds — and they’ve gone for Davis, albeit by a small margin.

As Bustle reported after she declared her candidacy, there are other reasons to be optimistic for Davis' race for governor:

[S]he’s never lost an election—and she’s had some tough races. Texas Republicans put time and money into unseating her in 2012, but she was able to assemble enough of a coalition to defeat her challenger, Mark Shelton.

What makes this victory particularly impressive, though, is that while Davis won by three points, President Obama lost Tarrant County, in which Davis’s district resides, by 16. Davis was thus able to separate herself from Obama in the eyes of voters, and that’ll be crucial for any Democrat running in Texas next year. Tying your opponent to an unpopular member of the same party is a time-honored campaign strategy, and considering Obama lost Texas by 16 points last year, you can be sure Abbott will try to associate Davis with Obama. Her margin of victory in Fort Worth last year suggests that this will be difficult.

The campaign is going to be brutal, and Davis is still an underdog. Jim Henson, who co-directed the poll, said that the pollsters “have not seen a big change in party identification, and we don’t see any large-scale shifts in the underlying attitudes that are forming.” But it’s not a foregone conclusion.

The poll also showed that 19 percent of Texans, or almost one in five, believe that Democrats control the U.S. House of Representatives. So, umm, there’s that...