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It’s not the job of outsiders to tell people what to do with their political careers. But if Wendy Davis asked my advice about whether she should throw her famous shoes into the ring for governor of Texas in 2014, I’d tell her: absolutely. If she wants the job, she should go for it. No matter what happens, it will likely help her.
Why is it even a question? Well, because the odds are strong that she’ll lose. Indeed, election analyst Harry Enten suggested that those calling on her to run “don’t understand how conservative Texas is – or how little impact Davis’ stand actually made in the state.” And he’s right. Texas is a solid Republican state, and Davis would have little chance of winning.
Then, why should she run?
First of all: Flukes happen, but they only happen for people who are standing in the right place. Just like Mark Begich, Democratic senator from Republican Alaska. Or Mark Kirk, Republican senator from Democratic Illinois. And there are even more in statehouses; Arkansas, Kentucky and Montana all have Democratic governors right now, while several two-time Obama states elected Republican governors in 2010. Or, fairly recently, consider George Pataki in New York, Linda Lingle in Hawaii, or a series of Republican governors in Massachusetts, including Mitt Romney.
Is it likely that a Democrat can win statewide in Texas in 2014? Absolutely not. Is it possible? Sure.
Indeed, the path for a Democratic victory is easy to see. It’s not the way that those Republicans won in 2010; it’s not likely that there will be a national tide helping the president’s party in his sixth year in the White House. But that’s not the only way flukes happen.
With Gov. Rick Perry resigning, Republicans will nominate someone new this time around. And while their most likely nominee, Attorney General Greg Abbott, appears right now to be about as solid a candidate as Republicans could hope for, you never know. Not just because Abbott could wilt as he moves to a more visible stage; that’s possible, but unlikely. No, the most likely disaster for the GOP in Texas is primary trouble. No one can know at this point what the chances are that Republicans wind up nominating a Christine O’Donnell, a Joe Miller, a Todd Akin. If that happens, all of a sudden the contest is extremely competitive, and that Democratic nomination a lot more valuable than expected.
Granted: She probably loses if she runs. Abbott probably gets the nomination, performs well, and steamrolls whoever the Democrats put up.
Even so. Remember Ron Kirk? Kirk had been mayor of Dallas, and he had the privilege of being flattened by Jon Cornyn in a 2002 Senate campaign – and then wound up United States trade representative during Barack Obama’s first term. No, not all statewide losers get shiny new Washington jobs … but Wendy Davis is already a lot less anonymous than most statewide losers. If she can survive a statewide campaign without making a fool of herself, she’s going to be among the top tier of 2014 Democratic losers. It’s not just administration jobs that could come from that; there’s also the possibility, as I’ve seen some people already speculate about, that she could wind up winning a gig running a national organization outside the realm of electoral office.
Yes, those things could happen anyway. But a statewide campaign in a large state would be an excellent way for Davis to keep her name in the news, and to keep her ahead of other media flashes-in-the-pan who will almost certainly appear in the months to come. After all, it’s a safe bet that someone will emerge in a visible fight for similar issues in some other state legislature – or that Rush Limbaugh or one of his competitors or a “clever” Republican politician somewhere will create the next Sandra Fluke. If Davis wants to keep those high-visibility MSNBC hits once the Texas Legislature goes back home until 2015, she should realize she’s going to have competition.
Needless to say, I have no idea what Wendy Davis wants in her career. That’s her business. But if she is attracted to the idea of moving up in politics (and every indication is that she has healthy ambitions), then a gubernatorial bid seems like a low-risk, high-reward option.
Jonathan Bernstein writes at a Plain Blog About Politics. Follow him at @jbplainblogMore Jonathan Bernstein.