Attorney General Greg Abbott was elected the 48th governor of Texas on Tuesday with a smashing victory over state Sen. Wendy Davis, leading a Republican sweep of statewide offices in Texas and extending the GOP’s 20-year hold on the governor’s office.
With all the early vote in and more than 82 percent of Election Day precincts reporting, the Texas secretary of state’s office reported that Abbott held a commanding lead that would far exceed Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s nearly 13-percentage-point margin over Democrat Bill White in 2010 and surpass Perry’s 18-percentage-point defeat of Tony Sanchez in 2002.
Exit polls indicated that Abbott defeated Davis among female voters by 9 percentage points, rolled up an immense 33-percentage-point margin with male voters and won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, crossing an important threshold in a state with a large and growing Latino population. But, according to the exit polls, Abbott’s big victory was secured with 73 percent of the white vote in a state where white voters continued to make up two thirds of those who cast ballots.
Abbott’s victory is the culmination of a personal climb following a 1984 accident that left him a paraplegic. Named by Gov. George W. Bush to the Texas Supreme Court in 1995, Abbott has had an unbroken run of political success, twice re-elected to the Texas Supreme Court before winning three terms as attorney general, where he methodically laid the groundwork to succeed Perry.
“I am living proof that a young man can have his life broken in half and still rise up to be the governor of this great state of Texas,” Abbott told supporters at ACL Live in downtown Austin during a victory party that included Perry and GOP U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.
In her hometown of Fort Worth, Davis told supporters not to lose heart.
“I know you are disappointed,” Davis said. “Being disappointed is OK. But being discouraged is not.”
“Your work is not in vain,” Davis said. “The only way we will have lost tonight is if we stop fighting.”
From Day One of the campaign, it was Abbott’s to lose.
“She never stood a chance,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “The fundamental of Texas identity is that it’s a red state and that, absent Greg Abbott making a monumental error or serial gaffes, Wendy Davis was never going to win.”
In the most practiced parlance of the Davis campaign, Abbott was an Austin “insider” protecting the interests of his rich and powerful friends at the expense of “hard-working Texans.”
But what virtually any Texan with a TV set heard as a consequence of Abbott’s saturation television advertising was that Abbott had persevered despite being in a wheelchair, that his mother-in-law was a Mexican-American who thought very highly of him, and that Davis was politically a Barack Obama clone in a state where the president is as unpopular as anywhere in the country.
Battleground Texas, the creation of veterans of the Obama presidential campaigns, planted its flag in Texas in February 2013 with what it said was a long and patient time horizon for laying the groundwork for Democrats to become competitive in Texas. But that timetable was dramatically accelerated when Davis entered the race as a candidate who, thanks to the Texas Senate filibuster seen round the world, generated an all-bets-are-off excitement that had the Democratic political world atwitter.
But University of Texas political scientist Joshua Blank said that very excitement also loosed many Democrats, in Texas and around the country, from a more sober appreciation of the enormity of the task at hand.
“Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas created a set of expectations that were wildly unrealistic and probably helped the Republicans re-energize their coalition in ways they might have had trouble with after a grueling primary and runoff and fissures within the party over just how conservative to be,” Blank said.
The results indicate that Abbott wasn’t at all hindered by a statewide ticket that bore the imprint of tea party voters who held sway in the GOP’s contentious primary and runoffs, particularly in the contest for lieutenant governor and attorney general, where tea party favorites, state Sens. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, prevailed over more establishment Republican candidates, incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Rep. Dan Branch.
While Davis raised and spent more than $37 million in her high-profile campaign, she appeared to have run only marginally better than the other, underfunded Democrats running on the statewide ticket, including Jim Hogan, the Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, who didn’t raise a dime.
“Davis showed some promise early but that promise was somewhat illusory,” Blank said.
In the immediate aftermath of her abortion filibuster, Davis was actually better known to voters than Abbott and, the particulars of the abortion issue aside, her introduction to the broader public had a heroic aspect to it. But, over time, the electorate settled back into its partisan corners, which in Texas is a huge advantage for a Republican, and Abbott came into the race with a $21 million advantage over Davis that he more than maintained amid strong fundraising by both campaigns, enabling him to control the airwaves right up until Tuesday.
Abbott was hoping to run up the score Tuesday, both as a personal mandate and to dispirit efforts to turn Texas into a battleground state in state and national elections.