Why Wendy Davis Was a Disastrous Texas Gubernatorial Candidate

Ross Douthat:

. . . It should be said, and many people are saying it, that Davis and her team ran a poorer-than-expected campaign overall, and that the allegedly-brilliant team running the Democrats’ new Texas ground game were not in fact so brilliant. But the more important issue, surely, is that the Democrats decided that it made sense to run, well, Wendy Davis as their “change-the-map” candidate in Texas. Nunn and Carter in Georgia were nominations that fit reasonably well with the facts on the ground, and while they obviously disappointed Nunn did at least outperform the last two Democratic Senate nominees in her state. Davis, on the other hand, actually underperformed the Democratic nominee’s totals in the last two head-to-head races against Rick Perry … which is, again, pretty much exactly what you’d expect when you nominate a figure who owed her prominence to a filibuster on late-term abortion to contest a statewide rate in Texas.

Yes, the social conservatism of Hispanics, while real enough, is sometimes overstated; yes, polling on abortion is always fluid and complicated, in red states as well as blue. But it still should be obvious that if your long-term political vision requires consolidating and mobilizing a growing Hispanic bloc in a state that’s much more religious and conservative than average, nominating a culture-war lightning rod is just about the strangest possible way to go about realizing that goal, no matter what kind of brilliant get out the vote strategy you think you’ve conjured up or how much national money you think she’ll raise. It would be a little bit like, I don’t know, nominating a political-novice Tea Partier who owed her prior fame to a pro-abstinence campaign to contest a winnable race in a deep-blue, more-secular-than-average northeastern state. Not that the Republican Party would ever accidentally do anything like that, of course.

But even that joke is part of the point: The Christine O’Donnell thing really did happen more or less by accident, because she happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch an anti-establishment wave and win a primary in which she was supposed to be a protest candidate. Whereas the Davis experiment was intentionally designed: She was treated to fawning press coverage, lavished with funding, had the primary field mostly cleared for her, and was touted repeatedly as part of an actual party strategy for competing in a conservative-leaning state. Of course she had a much more impressive resume than O’Donnell, with less witchcraft and real political experience, and in that sense she made a more credible candidate overall. (Though, ahem, O’Donnell actually outperformed Davis at the polls in the end …) But in terms of their signature issues and their public profiles, they were equally absurd fits for the tasks they were assigned; it’s just that in Davis’s case nobody on the left of center wanted to acknowledge it.

For those of you who don’t know who Wendy Davis is, here is the shorthand description: She is the Democratic party’s answer to Sarah Palin; long on charisma, short on substance, utterly incapable of handling herself in the political arena, and totally lacking in street smarts.