AUSTIN (AP) – Of all the ways Democrat Wendy Davis lost her run for Texas governor, one particularly stands out: She failed to move the needle with women.
Exit polls show Davis fared no better with women than her male Democratic predecessor in 2010, despite being one of the most recognizable female candidates in the U.S. and a campaign that aggressively courted women with gender issues and attention-grabbing ads.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott won 54 percent of female voters — roughly the same edge Gov. Rick Perry had with women four years ago. And Abbott’s advantage wasn’t just among Republican women: He carried roughly double the support that Davis pulled with women who described themselves as politically independent.
“I don’t understand at this point where we lost them, if indeed we did,” said Patsy Woods Martin, executive director of Annie’s List, a political organization that backs Democratic women and was a heavy financial contributor to Davis.
Abbott clobbered Davis by a 20-point margin that is the widest in a Texas governor’s race since George W. Bush coasted to re-election in 1998. The Fort Worth state senator was a perennial underdog, but few expected her to finish worse than a string of lesser-known longshots whom Texas Democrats have put at the top of the ticket in their two hapless decades since Ann Richards.
Davis and her running mate, fellow state Sen. Leticia van de Putte, were only the fifth all-female ticket in at least the past 20 years in U.S. state elections.
Davis became an overnight sensation with her nearly 13-hour filibuster over new Texas abortion restrictions last year. In deeply conservative Texas, she resisted abortion rights being a centerpiece issue of her candidacy and focused on winning over suburban and undecided women in other ways.
She hammered Abbott, the state attorney general, on equal pay in his office and denounced him for not supporting a Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. She spent two weeks touring rape crisis centers. Her first statewide TV ad featured a shadowy dramatization of a vacuum cleaner salesman who raped a Texas mother whom Abbott later sided against in a lawsuit when he was a Texas Supreme Court justice.
Last month, as Abbott’s office fought in court to defend the abortion restrictions Davis filibustered, she told MSNBC, “I truly do not understand how women can support his candidacy.”
Abbott’s top strategists said Wednesday their campaign crafted no specific blueprint to compete for women with Davis.
“Our strategy was to compete aggressively for the persuasion audience. It included females because females make up the majority of the voters,” said Dave Carney, one of Abbott’s senior strategists.
Younger women favored Davis, but Abbott had the edge among those who were college graduates. Davis, whose compelling story from single motherhood in a trailer park to Harvard Law was a major part of her narrative to voters, forced a draw with women who had no college degree.
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