AUSTIN (AP) — Democrat Wendy Davis celebrated Wednesday night the anniversary of her star-making filibuster over Texas abortion restrictions by rallying supporters who are eager to recapture the defiant energy of last summer and reinvigorate her underdog campaign for governor.
The Fort Worth state senator drew backers to downtown Austin for a reunion that was part pep rally and part fundraiser. Several sported the same pink tennis shoes Davis wore during her nearly 13-hour filibuster that temporarily blocked passage of a ban on abortion after 20 weeks and propelled her gubernatorial run.
“Even as some believe that a year ago today was some kind of fluke and have since written us off, I will never write you off,” Davis said.
Davis only briefly touched on abortion rights this time around. But when she did, it drew loud cheers from a crowd that her campaign put at about 1,600 people.
Republicans and anti-abortion activists marked the anniversary with their own victory lap.
GOP leaders and supporters of the abortion law — known as HB2 — returned to the Capitol decked in the same shade of blue that clashed with orange-clad Democrats last year. They called Wednesday a day of “celebration,” even though Davis’ filibuster prevented the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing the bill until two weeks later.
“I think it’s interesting that they would celebrate a failed filibuster attempt. But that’s certainly up to them,” said Abby Johnson, a former director at a Planned Parenthood clinic who’s now an anti-abortion advocate.
Conservatives often dismiss the filibuster as a political stunt that they say instigated an unruly mob. State troopers removed women who were yelling from the Senate gallery, as the noise and chaos in the chamber prevented Republicans from ratifying the bill before a midnight deadline.
HB2 also requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers and mandates that doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic.
At least 21 licensed abortion facilities have closed because of the law, leaving 20 open in the second most-populous state in the U.S., according to Whole Women’s Health, an abortion provider in Texas.
Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups have since emerged as major donors to Davis’ campaign.
“One year later, we come back together, and we’re all in. Know what we’re going to do restore women’s rights and health in Texas? We’re going to do any damn thing it takes,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.
A year ago, the filibuster looked like a seismic event for Democrats who haven’t won a statewide office since 1994. The throngs of supporters who packed the Capitol were organized, vastly outnumbered their conservative opponents and rallied around a charismatic leader in Davis — all the political essentials Texas Democrats have lacked for two decades.
But the aftershocks have been fainter than what her party hoped.
Davis has struggled to gain ground on Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott despite her fundraising prowess and fame. Earlier this month she shook things up and changed campaign managers, letting a fellow state lawmaker take the reins from a national Democratic operative with a record of winning big races.
Abbott’s campaign issued a statement Wednesday reaffirming his opposition abortion.
BeaAnn Smith, a retired Austin judge who was at the event, acknowledged disappointment that Davis hasn’t closed the gap in the race but doesn’t think talking more about abortion rights is the answer.
“I want her to have more broad, universal appeal,” Smith said.
Davis is expected to double down her message of improving public schools and weeding out cronyism on Friday night when she headlines the Texas Democratic Party Convention in Dallas.
“We will win,” Davis said.
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