AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Democrat Wendy Davis said Monday she is running for Congress, five years after badly losing a bid for governor that was propelled by her 13-hour filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the state Capitol.
She will challenge freshman Republican Rep. Chip Roy, one of the most conservative new members of Congress, and her announcement was only one fresh sign of unusual Democratic optimism in Texas heading into 2020.
Also Monday, Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn drew another challenger in state Sen. Royce West, who jumped into a growing Democratic field with no clear frontrunner after former Rep. Beto O’Rourke passed on another try for Senate. O’Rourke, who narrowly lost to Sen. Ted Cruz last year, is now trying to overcome struggles in his bid for the White House.
Before O’Rourke in Texas, there was Davis — a rare Texas Democrat who attracted national attention and donor cash, only to lose her bid for governor to Republican Greg Abbott in 2014. Since that defeat, the GOP’s dominance in Texas has weakened, but Republicans quickly attacked her candidacy by reminding how soundly Texas voters rejected her last time.
“I’m running for Congress because people’s voices are still being silenced,” Davis said in a video launching her campaign. “I’m running for our children and grandchildren so they can live and love and fight for change themselves.”
Roy was narrowly elected to Congress last year and made headlines in May for single-handedly blocking $19 billion in disaster aid over protests that it didn’t include money to address the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. The spending bill ultimately passed, but not before Roy’s delay frustrated lawmakers on both sides.
The National Republican Campaign Committee, the GOP’s fundraising arm in Congress, called it “beyond parody that Wendy Davis is attempting to make her political comeback in a district she lost by 20 points last time around.”
Davis, 56, has spent the last few years running an Austin-based nonprofit focused on gender equality called Deeds Not Words. She remains a headlining draw for Democrats and will likely remain a fundraising powerhouse just as she was in 2014, when her gubernatorial campaign attracted donors from across the U.S. and raised nearly $40 million.
That was after becoming an overnight Democratic sensation when — wearing pink running shoes on the floor of the Texas Senate — Davis stood for 13 consecutive hours to temporarily block a sweeping anti-abortion measure. She told Texas Monthly in March that she recently met with actress Sandra Bullock to discuss the Oscar winner portraying her in a movie about the filibuster, which Davis said could be released next year.
Previously a state senator from Fort Worth, Davis is now running in a booming congressional district that stretches from Austin to San Antonio. Roy won the district by less than 3 percentage points and House Democrats’ campaign committee had already considered him a prime target for next year.
Davis had also publicly mulled running for U.S. Senate at a time when Democrats suddenly see opportunity everywhere in Texas: They flipped two congressional seats in 2018, picked up a dozen seats in the state Legislature and nearly pushed O’Rourke to an upset over Cruz.
Democrats are now digging in for a Senate primary battle that includes West, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and Houston Councilwoman Amanda Edwards . Cornyn, who has served in the Senate since 2002, said this month his re-election campaign was sitting on $9 million .
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber