Ready or Not, It's Time for Wendy Davis to Run

Offering unsolicited advice about whether Sen. Wendy Davis should run for statewide office is like playing cops and robbers with finger guns. No one believes there's a bullet when you yell "Bang!", and no one ever gets hurt.

But there are rooms in Texas where she seeks advice. There are telephone conversations, email exchanges, perhaps even texts in which she asks, "What do you think I should do?" She asks certain people, perhaps as many as can be counted on two hands. For those few, the question is live ammo, unexploded ordnance. You don't want to cut the wrong wire and blow her to bits.

It reduces the risk to her advisors to hew to cautionary tales about the importance of her senate seat in preventing a Republican supermajority, Gov.-presumptive Greg Abbott's embarrassment of riches, and the difficulties in getting Anglo voters to vote for a Democrat. No one has ever looked like an idiot urging caution around dynamite.

Compared to that sober advice, someone telling Wendy to run for any statewide office looks like a fool who would pull the pin just to see an explosion. Smart people have probably told her about the half-life of political capital and explained the risk-reward logic behind the bold campaign. This reasoning is unassailable, but no one looks smart advocating risks.

The danger of planning a battle on a map is you can forget the millions of unseen troops who are waiting for orders.

"I want to do what's right for me and my family, I want to do what's right for the state and the party and so it will take a lot of decision making and I'll make it in a way that's very personal to me and also one that is reflective of the possibilities and the landscape and the future of Texas," said Sen. Davis.

That's a fine answer, but the jumping-off point gives me pause: "...what's right for me and my family..." I want the best for her and her daughters, but Texas Democrats have a real and significant emotional stake in her decision as well, however silly that sounds.

For a long time, Texas Democrats were smart not to hope. The failure of the Dream Team turned out to be a high point of the Perry era. Why should donors fund campaigns with no chance of winning after believing the repeated false promises of Tony Sanchez, Carole Strayhorn and Bill White? Why should activists recruit their friends and neighbors to volunteer for sure losers? Why should Texans vote if they already know the outcome?

The inexorable logic of disengagement weighed heavily upon Texas Democrats. Our symbol was Eeyore, a pathologically depressed donkey. In 2006, Chris Bell's pollster wrote that the "key to Chris Bell's chances" was countering the "disunity, confusion and disarray among Texas' Democratic base." Donors abandoned Bell for the ill-advised Strayhorn adventure. Activists abandoned their Democratic nominee to get a little Kinky. Bell lost, and Democrats abandoned all hope despite White's efforts in 2010 to stoically micromanage us to victory.

Then came the orange wave. Non-political people noticed the Republicans' radical activism. A leader stood up. Republicans, not willing to play fair, unwittingly elevated this leader to heroic heights. Stacking bad decisions to the ceiling, Republicans exposed themselves as ideological bullies and handed disaffected Democrats a temporary victory that boosted our morale and perhaps provided the turning point we've been waiting for.

To this, Sen. Davis' aides offer cold analysis. "You never want to be the savior of anything. It would tend to increase the pressure considerably," one anonymous Davis aide said.

Well, tough. For the first time since Ann Richards, Texas Democrats have a leader, a win under our belts and the will to fight. Jesus never asked to be anyone's savior either, but the Bible would have been a different book if He had said that throwing the moneychangers out of the temple "wasn't right for me and my family."

No one in the history of this country has ever run for office because it was right for his or her family, but if Sen. Davis decides against a statewide campaign she could erase recent gains. If she says she doesn't believe the fight is worth her time, she could cause Texas Democrats to believe once again in the paucity of hope.

You don't raise an army if you're not going into battle. Sen. Davis did not ask to be a savior. But tag, she's it.

This post originally appeared on Jason Stanford's blog, Behind Frenemy Lines.