Reuters and The New York Times have both had paradigm shifts in their coverage of the gubernatorial campaign of Wendy Davis. From early stories that seemed intoxicated with the soaring hopes of the Texas Democrat, the tone has shifted to one that faces the reality of Davis’s poll numbers and can’t help wondering, “Is she really cut out for this?”
The New York Times article titled “For Wendy Davis, Filibuster Only Goes So Far in Race to Be Governor of Texas” wrestles with this very question. Author Manny Fernandez spoke with campaign insiders who, while putting a brave face on it, mostly agreed that a certain energy has left the fight.
Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist, described by the Times as a friend of Davis’s, put it this way:
She’s not doing as well as people had hoped, expected or wanted. I think there were unrealistic expectations. Most people didn’t know who she was until she stood up on that floor and did her filibuster. It’s like being shot out of a cannon in that situation. Nobody lives their life shot out of a cannon. It’s a grind. She’s grinding.
What he said next captured a note of disillusionment that many in the Davis campaign are likely experiencing: “They were expecting a rock star, and she’s finding her stage voice.”
A Democratic strategist who worked on the campaign in its early stages concurred that the effort has stalled:
I think you could really say [the campaign is] in a place where it’s gotten away from them, where it really probably is impossible to bring it back. It’s such a failure to take advantage of the opportunities that they were presented with, and really translate that into something. The campaign has never been as good as Wendy is.
Both outlets argue that political missteps dogged the Davis campaign from the beginning and have contributed to the current situation, though the Times has previously been less than ready to admit this. Davis famously lied about her life story while making it a center strut of her campaign, then waffled on the very issue – abortion – that brought her into the limelight.
Until the poll numbers came in, the Times described these as moves of political skill.
Other problems for Davis include her campaign manager, Karin Johanson, leaving after seven months working for her, joining other aides and consultants in doing so, and the campaign’s clumsily attacking Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, referring to him as a “desk jockey” after he said the Association wasn’t enthralled with her performance.
Both Reuters and the Times note, however, that the Davis campaign still enjoys one major strength: fundraising.
Garry Mauro, who lost the 1998 governor’s race to George W. Bush and who unsuccessfully ran Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Texas, told the Times, “Anybody that thinks that this campaign is over, or somehow she’s irrelevant, isn’t thinking. Nobody with $20 million is irrelevant.”
Davis herself, likely keenly aware of her unique advantage, said of growing disenchantment with her effort, “It’s background noise. What I see everywhere I go is the most incredible enthusiasm for a Democratic gubernatorial race certainly that I’ve experienced in my lifetime. People believe that their vote will make a difference in this race.”
(Lots of people, apparently, believe they can make a difference in this race.)
As those still on the campaign trail put their best faces forward, the canaries of two major news organizations – one of them notoriously pro-Davis – have fled the coal mine, leaving their uncritical optimism behind.