Greg Abbott Crushes Wendy Davis In GOP Sweep

Posted by Jay Root - Texas Tribune on

Attorney General Greg Abbott, presiding over another GOP sweep Tuesday night, crushed state Sen. Wendy Davis in the Texas governor’s race and helped usher in a whole new crop of Republican leaders up and down the statewide ballot.

In the first open race for governor in a quarter century, Abbott was leading Davis by a double-digit margin in early, unofficial returns. While it was too soon to calculate the margin of victory, once the votes began trickling in it was clear that Abbott would defeat the Fort Worth senator by a huge margin.

When Fox News called the race for Abbott at 8 p.m., a huge cheer went up at Abbott’s packed victory party in downtown Austin. The gathering provided a convenient and vivid demonstration of the changeover from one group of Republicans to another, as many of the old and new faces of the dominant Texas GOP came together under one roof — with several would-be 2016 presidential candidates sprinkled in.

Included in the gathering at the Moody Theater were U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican firebrand and potential White House aspirant who was elected with Tea Party backing in 2012; Land Commissioner-Elect George P. Bush, the nephew and grandson of two presidents; outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is dipping his legs back into the presidential waters despite his 2012 disaster; and newly elected agriculture and railroad commissioner candidates Sid Miller and Ryan Sitton, respectively.

Bush’s father, former Florida governor and possible presidential candidate Jeb Bush, also attended the celebration.

A giant Texas flag hung behind the stage where GOP luminaries were gearing up to speechify and Abbott was expected to declare victory. Jubilant supporters munched on Bert’s Barbeque and prepared for a concert from country singer Pat Green.

“We crushed the Democratic Party,” said Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri, kicking off the victory celebration. “We annihilated Battleground Texas. We completely wiped out their entire statewide ticket.”

Exit polls posted on CNN's website show Abbott beat Davis by lopsided margins with white voters (72-27), men (65-34) and women (52-47). Davis beat Abbott among Latinos (57-42) and African Americans (93-7).

Abbott, paralyzed in a freak accident in 1984, will become the first Texas governor in a wheelchair while in office, according to research provided by the Texas Legislative Reference Library; he’ll also be the first U.S. governor in a wheelchair since Alabama Gov. George Wallace served his last term in the mid-1980s.

Another Abbott first: His wife, Cecilia, will become the first Hispanic first lady of Texas, according to Abbott’s campaign. Greg and Cecilia Abbott, married in 1981, have one daughter, Audrey, a high school senior.

A former state district judge in Houston, Abbott, 56, was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1996 and served on the high bench until 2001. He was elected attorney general in 2002 and served in that office for three, four-year terms, longer than any occupant before him.

With legendary skill as a fundraiser and only token opposition in his two re-election contests, Abbott had amassed $20 million before the 2014 election even began. And he instantly became the prohibitive frontrunner when Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, announced he would move on after an unprecedented 14 years in office.

Abbott went on to raise another $45 million, providing him with what’s believed to be the largest donated war chest in a statewide race since the advent of modern campaign finance reporting. (Democrat Tony Sanchez largely self-financed his losing 2002 gubernatorial campaign, which cost about $70 million).

All told, the two candidates for governor spent upwards of $85 million, according to figures each side provided to the media.

During the campaign, Abbott made a series of new policy proposals — to improve education outcomes, spend more on the Texas-Mexico border and, notably, to introduce a major ethics reform package in the notoriously loose Texas Legislature.

But during campaign appearances he mostly stuck to the bread and butter of Texas GOP politics, promising to stay the course of low taxes and stingy budgeting while portraying the federal government as an ever-encroaching beast that threatens the Texas way of life.

Abbott took great delight in boasting about the more than two dozen lawsuits he’d filed against Uncle Sam, and in the final hours of his campaign he turned once again to Barack Obama, whom he treated as a sort of shadow opponent, warning that the unpopular president had teamed up with Davis to pump up turnout so they could inflict their “liberal agenda” on Texans and “hijack this state.” 

"If you don't [vote], Barack Obama's liberal, pro-abortion agenda is going to be crammed down on the state of Texas," he told supporters in a late night get-out-the-vote call. 

The fed-bashing, tax-cutting, liberal-smashing rhetoric appears to have worked its magic, not only for Abbott but also for every other Republican on the statewide ballot, starting with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and heading down to Land Commissioner-Elect Bush, plus every statewide judge. 

It wasn’t exactly unexpected. If the vote trends are confirmed, this was the 10th consecutive GOP sweep of the statewide ballot since 1996, half of them presidential elections and the other half midterms featuring races for governor and other executive-level state offices.

Still, the 2014 election dealt a particularly harsh blow to the once dominant Democrats, whose roster of past glory includes heavyweights like former Vice-President “Cactus” Jack Garner, President Lyndon Johnson, and U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn.

After the Tea Party-infused sweep of 2010, Democrats looked to 2014 as their best shot in a generation to stage a statewide comeback.

For the first time in more than a century, there were no incumbent politicians running for re-election to any of the statewide executive positions on the ballot, so all those powerful jobs were up for grabs. According to the Legislative Reference Library, there hasn’t been a wide-open ballot like this since at least 1906, when modern primaries and record keeping began. (Federal office and judicial posts weren’t counted).

That alone gave Democrats a rare opening. But as the contests unfolded, the sitting governor was indicted on corruption charges and the GOP candidate for attorney general was fined after admitting he violated state securities law — developments that might have given the party in power a headache in a competitive state.

It wasn’t even a leg cramp in Texas. In the only reliably Republican mega-state in the nation, the real competition now takes place in the spring primaries, where the chief worry for GOP incumbents is losing to a more conservative candidate.

Though the results were still coming in Tuesday evening, it was looking once again as though no statewide Democrat would come even remotely close to winning.

It wasn’t supposed to be such a blowout, at least as far as the governor’s race was concerned.  After rocketing to fame with her 11-hour-plus filibuster of a restrictive abortion bill, Davis was said to have at least an outside chance of becoming the first Democrat to inhabit the governor’s mansion since Ann Richards, who scored an upset victory against the gaffe-prone Republican Clayton Williams in 1990.

Davis raised millions and aired a series of harsh attack ads. She partnered with Battleground Texas, a tech-savvy group started by former Obama operatives, with an aim toward boosting the often lackluster Democratic vote.

And she ran an aggressive race that often put the Republican candidate on the defensive. She attacked him over his decision to campaign alongside smash-talking rocker and activist Ted Nugent, criticized his stand on equal pay for women and made the most of the controversy over Abbott’s decision to block release of information about the location of dangerous chemicals in Texas.

The way Davis pollster Joel Benenson sees it, Davis did an admirable job in very difficult circumstances. He blamed the loss largely on Abbott’s spending advantage and the inevitable uphill climb any Democrat faces in a conservative state in the sixth year of a Democratic presidency.

“This race starts with Wendy Davis as a significant underdog in a state that is a solid red state and has been for 20 years,” Benenson said. “And Wendy’s running against someone who starts with more than $20m in the bank. And that’s the reality about the race that we had to deal with.”

But Abbott’s chief strategist, Dave Carney, said the Democrats put up a flawed candidate with a flawed message, and he dismissed Battleground Texas as a “fraud” that didn’t live up to all their acolytes' incessant bragging about its efforts to turn Texas blue.

“They ran a horrible campaign. It would be hard to tell what their message was, other than being a victim,” Carney said. “It was just a totally incoherent campaign strategy.”

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