By Jack Fink

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — State Sen. Wendy Davis formally announced her campaign for Texas governor Thursday evening at 5 p.m., becoming the first Democrat to make an official bid for a statewide office in next year’s election.

Her campaign set the stage at the Haltom City civic center, where she received her high school diploma, and supporters organized watch parties in 18 cities across the state, the pro-Democrat political action committee Battleground Texas said.

Davis has said that her experience going from being a single teen mother to a successful Harvard-trained attorney informs her progressive politics and her commitment to Texas’ middle-class residents.

Davis talked about education during her announcement, telling her own story of being a single mother living in a trailer park at 19. She learned of a paralegal program and enrolled at Tarrant County Community College through a pamphlet given to her by a co-worker. Davis eventually transferred to Texas Christian University and worked her way through college and with the help of financial aid and student loans. She eventually graduated with honors from Harvard.

“We’re here because we want to fight for Texas jobs and help Texas companies grow,” Sen. Davis added. “We’re here because we want every child, no matter where they start in Texas, to receive a world-class education to take them anywhere they want to go, so that success and opportunity is within reach of every single Texan, and no one in this great state is ever forced to dream smaller instead of bigger.”

Sen. Davis has served as a Texas State Senator since 2008 in Texas Senate District 10, where she unseated a longtime incumbent by building a coalition of voters in a district that reflects a true snapshot of Texas.

During her time as a State Senator, Davis was able to pass a number of important bills to protect Texas families. She co-sponsored SB 859, a bi-partisan bill that would help exempt certain research and development activities and grow the Texas economy. She also won approval of a measure to reduce the enormous backlog of untested DNA evidence in rape kits that so that police and prosecutors will have the evidence needed to police and prosecutors put sex offenders behind bars.

Prior to being elected to the State Senate, served nine years on the Fort Worth City Council, where she was a leader in economic redevelopment, attracting over 260 million dollars of investment that created thousands of news jobs in Tarrant County.

The Fort Worth lawmaker rose to national prominence in June for her nearly 13-hour filibuster against new abortion restrictions in Texas.

Davis’ opponents plan to use her support for abortion rights to rally conservative Christian voters next fall. About 40 anti-abortion demonstrators marched outside the venue where Davis was scheduled to speak Thursday, and Texas Right to Life plans to begin airing an ad over the weekend that calls her an “abortion zealot.”

If her defense of abortion rights angered the right, it inspired Democrats who urged her to run for governor in 2014 and reinvigorate a party that hasn’t won statewide office since 1994. Her speech in the Legislature also added to her donor list, both in Texas and across the country.

Davis must raise money quickly to compete with the front-runner for the GOP nomination, Attorney General Gregg Abbott. He has already raised $25 million to her more than $1 million.

Experts say Davis and the political action committees supporting her will need to spend about $40 million to make it a competitive campaign in Texas, where Democrats have not won more than 42 percent of the vote in the last three elections.

But national Democratic support and changing state demographics give Davis a chance to end the party’s 20-year losing streak in Texas, Democratic consultants say.

Davis’ personal story — from a trailer park to Texas Christian University to the Harvard Law School — has captured the imagination of many of her supporters.

She was a successful attorney when she decided to enter politics by challenging a veteran Republican state senator in Tarrant County in 2008. She narrowly won that race and a tough re-election bid in 2012, when most voters in her district cast ballots for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Observers say her ability to win Republican crossover votes will be critical if she expects to beat Abbott, who has the full strength of the GOP establishment behind him.

Davis originally promised to announce her intentions by Labor Day, but her father became ill following complications from abdominal surgery and died Sept. 5.

Shortly after Davis’ announcement, Texans for Greg Abbott released the following statement regarding her entrance to the race:

“Once again, Texas Democrats are attempting to conjure support for California-style candidates that try to sell Obama’s liberal agenda and go against what makes Texas great. Nonetheless, we welcome Senator Davis to the race, and look forward to presenting the clear differences and debating the important issues that will preserve the economic miracle in Texas.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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