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Rising Texas political star Davis takes second look at governor's race

 

It's been a sharp, quick ascent into national prominence for Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator whose 13-hour filibuster against a restrictive Texas abortion law made her an instant heroine to progressives across the country – and a rising star in Texas politics.   

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wendy Davis, the Texas state legislator whose 11-hour filibuster prevented a vote on a controversial abortion law, are engaged in a war of words as Perry calls another special session to hold a vote on the measure. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

Her activism has reignited the conversation about her political future which could include a run for governor.  "Of course it forces a second look, but I am not taking that look right now," Davis said in an interview with NBC News.  "Right now, I'm working to try to be very strategic, and a member of the team that has to work very hard in the next few weeks to defeat this bill." 

But asked directly whether she would rule out serving as Democrats' candidate for governor in 2014, Davis responded: "I cannot rule that out."

Davis's story is now well-known: the former single-mother-turned-Harvard-Law-grad stood and spoke for hours on end in opposition to a law that would effectively ban most abortions in Texas after the 20th week of pregnancy, and shutter most of the clinics in the state where abortions are performed. Her speech felled the abortion bill after the deadline by which it must have been passed expired.

That fight is about to escalate beginning on Monday, when a special session called by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, R, meets in Austin to work toward reconsidering and passing that abortion law. And all eyes will watching to see how Davis — who has emerged not just as a chief adversary to Perry, but also as a rising national Democratic star — proceeds.

"What I can say is, I don't underestimate at all the power that people have brought to this conversation," she told NBC News in a phone interview. "And I will not underestimate the impact that they can have in the Capitol. And I expect they're going to be there, working hard alongside people who share their values."

The Texas proposal, which is tentatively slated for a final vote in the state Senate next week, is likely to pass this time. Republicans in the legislature will not repeat their mistake of leaving the abortion law until the final moments of their session, the deadline which Davis used to fell the law with her filibuster. (Davis did suggest, though, that she has heard "rumblings" that some state lawmakers might reconsider their votes given the national attention to the debate now.)

Perhaps more significantly, the coming weeks might set the stage for a marquee showdown between Davis and Perry — who is yet to say whether he'll seek a fourth term as governor — in the 2014 governor's race.

Though Davis had previously said she planned to run for re-election to her state Senate seat, she acknowledged on Sunday that the national outpouring she's received has forced her to reconsider a showdown against Perry, or another Republican candidate.

If she were to run, Davis would be riding a wave of liberal enthusiasm behind her candidacy. Progressive blogs quickly hailed her filibuster with hopes that she would run, and heavyweight Democratic groups like the pro-abortion rights Emily's List have encouraged Davis to run in the past.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis discusses her battle against a Texas state bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and leave Texas with only five legal abortion clinics.

Davis said that in the days since the June 25 filibuster, she has been inundated with calls from support from fellow Democrats. Governors and senators have called with their well-wishes, Davis said. And House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who tweeted in support of Davis during her filibuster, sent the state senator flowers the day afterward.

If Davis were to challenge Perry, it could result in a Texas-sized showdown that would upend Republican dominance in Texas. There is already a fair degree of rancor after Perry, speaking last week at the National Right to Life Convention, singled Davis out and, referring to her pregnancy as a teenager, said it was "unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example."

A Republican strategist close to Perry dismissed the idea that Davis could threaten the three-term governor. Democrats have been shut out of statewide elected office since 1994.

"Wendy Davis is not a threat to any statewide office in Texas. She will be lucky to hold her own senate seat in 2014," the Republican said. (Davis's district is one of the few competitive ones in the Lone Star state, and could be redrawn by redistricting set to move forward after last week's Supreme Court decision about the Voting Rights Act.)

The Republican argued that few Texans of any political party share Davis's views about abortion. "It's not a winning hand for a non presidential year turn out election," said the strategist.

Democrats are hopeful, though, that they can turn the tide with a prominent figurehead like Davis at the top of their ticket. Changing demographics in Texas — namely, the growth of the Latino population — has prompted some observers to argue that the state would become more competitive in future elections. And groups like The Lone Star Project have been working to rebuild the state party's aged infrastructure to help Democrats.

As to whether she thinks Perry is ultimately beatable in 2014, Davis demurred.

"I just can't predict that," she said. "Is he vulnerable? Yes."

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