Mike Norman

Can Wendy Davis win without being elected?

Winning the governor’s race in the Nov. 4 election might not be the only measure of success for state Sen. Wendy Davis.

Of course, it is the one that matters most, and the Fort Worth Democrat’s election night party won’t be the same without it.

But recall that when she entered the race last year, on the heels of her famous but ultimately futile filibuster against increased abortion restrictions, much of the talk was about just getting the Texas Democratic Party back on its feet.

Davis says she is doing that. She addressed the topic during an hour-long meeting with the Star-Telegram Editorial Board on Wednesday.

No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994.

Davis and her party’s Battleground Texas get-out-the-vote arm want to change that, but it doesn’t have to happen this year for them to claim some legitimate measure of success.

What they have to do is get a much larger share of the vote in statewide races, particularly in the governor’s race, than they have in the past decade. Not easy, given that Republicans have so much of a head start.

Editorial writer and columnist Bob Ray Sanders asked Davis whether any Democratic superstars — President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton or presidential wannabe Hillary Clinton — would be coming to Texas to help with the campaign.

Texas Republicans would jump at the chance to tie Davis to Obama. She didn’t back away.

“We would love the support of anyone who could help us turn out our [Democratic voter] base,” she said.

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She talked about the party’s get-out-the-vote challenge.

“We have been working very, very hard, of course, to make sure that base voters that have been staying home in gubernatorial election years, those that come out in presidential election years, will come out this time,” she said. “We’ve spent about $6 million on the ground to try to make sure that happens.”

She said the Democrats have 30,000 volunteers across the state working on voter turnout.

Davis claimed some success already. The Houston Chronicle reported this week that voter registrations are up nearly 150,000 in the state’s five largest counties compared to the 2012 presidential election.

But registration means little without turnout.

In the last election for governor, in 2010, Democrat Bill White took only 42 percent of the vote against Republican Rick Perry’s 55 percent.

About 5 million votes were cast in that race, down from 8 million Texas votes in the 2008 presidential race that sent Obama to the White House.

And White’s share was on the high side of what Democratic statewide candidates have been able to muster since Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock (61 percent of the vote) and Comptroller John Sharp (55 percent) were the party’s stars back in 1994.

Short of winning, what is the measure of success for Davis? It will have to be a lot better than White’s 42 percent.

“I think that we will leave behind in this race an infrastructure of Democratic voter development that was sorely needed in this state,” Davis said. “I’m very proud of that.”

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