There seem to be two competing camps on Wendy Davis's presumed entry into the race to replace Rick Perry. One camp can't conceal its excitement; the other can't conceal its skepticism.
To the first camp: Settle down. The odds aren't THAT great.
To the second camp: Yes, it's Texas. And yes, Wendy Davis has a chance.
As the title implies, winning this race, even for a candidate as skilled as Wendy Davis, is a longshot. But there's a chance. If I were putting odds on it, I would say something like 1-in-4 or 1-in-5: not great, but it could happen.
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Okay, so, I'll first address the reasons why this race is a longshot. They're pretty short:
1. It's Texas.
2. Greg Abbott is the sitting Attorney General and is sitting on a $20 million campaign account.
There? Okay. Now, on to the reasons why this is winnable.
No, Wendy Davis's stance on reproductive rights is not as much of a handicap as you would think. In fact, her stance on reproductive rights might not be a handicap at all.
For one, you could argue pretty accurately that Greg Abbott's stance on abortion rights is more out of the mainstream -- even in Texas! -- than Davis's. Polling shows that Texans are close to being evenly divided on this issue, which isn't what you would expect given Republican politicians' hardline stance on the issue.
For another, abortion becoming a key issue in the campaign, particularly against a female candidate running as a champion of reproductive rights, basically ups the odds to infinity that a Republican candidate will say something stupid and/or offensive. In fact, AG candidate Barry Smitherman has already done just that.
Plus, more than most people are aware, Texas's Republican coalition depends quite a bit on Kay Bailey Hutchison types, women who are moderately pro-choice but vote Republican for other reasons. (Texas Democrats have the same problem with Hispanic voters who tend to be pro-life, but we'll get to them in a minute.) For all of these reasons, making this election about abortion might not be the winning issue that Republicans think it is.
Greg Abbott isn't as strong a candidate as you think. Abbott has been talked up as the heir apparent to Rick Perry, but basically every analysis I've read of why Abbott's chances are so good starts and ends with the size of his campaign account. This is telling.
While George W. Bush concocted that whole "compassionate conservative" thing and Rick Perry basically followed in his footsteps, both coming off as well-meaning dolts in the process, Greg Abbott has none of that. In short, Abbott is an abrasive asshole. Now, you can argue accurately that Ted Cruz is an abrasive asshole and that didn't stop him from winning a Senate seat, but then Cruz wasn't facing a strong and well-funded Democratic candidate. In fact, the Democrats essentially conceded the race to Cruz. Assuming Davis gets into the race, that won't be the case here.
And Davis will be giving Abbott something he hasn't really ever had: a credible opponent. Abbott has been elected statewide four times (once to the state Supreme Court after being appointed by George W. Bush, and thrice as Attorney General) and he's only really faced one credible opponent in that whole time: then-Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, who ran against him for AG in 2002. He's never had any primary opposition, and by that I mean he's literally been unopposed every time, not that he's never had a credible primary opponent.
This roughly describes how Texas manages to get Rick "Oops" Perry: the state party, at least up until 2010, largely was able to prevent intraparty fratricide, and the Democrats have mostly fielded weak candidates over the last couple of cycles. Abbott hasn't really been tested, and nobody can really be sure how he'll perform under the spotlight of a Governor's race. Yes, he's well-funded, but money can't make people like you, and unlike Cruz or even Perry I don't get the sense that a lot of the Republican rank-and-file really likes Greg Abbott. He almost strikes me as David Dewhurst, but with a different set of problems.
What's more, as much as people talk about motivating "the base," here's a motivator: Greg Abbott has been loudly and publicly warring with the Obama Administration over whether or not the state should be allowed to make it harder for minorities to vote. Just how do you think that's going to play with the Democratic base? You might be skeptical of Davis's appeal to black and Hispanic voters, but don't forget that Democrats could also go the other route and get them riled up against Abbott.
In short, no, this isn't career suicide for Wendy Davis. There is a way that this can be won.