Republicans should be worried about Wendy Davis, the Democrat expected to make a run for governor in Texas. And it's not because Davis, who garnered national attention for attempting (unsuccessfully) to filibuster a restrictive anti-abortion bill, is a front-runner. Texas is still a red state, and while Davis trails Republican Greg Abbott by single digits in a recent independent poll, she surely has an uphill fight.
But even if she loses, Davis could have coattails that help other Democratic candidates. Her very presence on the ballot, and the story of how she got there, underscores the troubles the GOP has been having with female voters.
Gender gaps have bedeviled a number of Republican candidates over the years, but GOP contenders have been able to win over female voters on the same issues that matter to men, economics and jobs among them. So-called "women's issues" have often been secondary, especially when the fights are in the courts.
But the loaded rhetoric from Republican candidates for statewide and congressional offices in the past two election cycles has not only cost the GOP seats (and almost certainly the chance to take the majority in the U.S. Senate), but has damaged the Republican brand in general. Todd Akin's remark that women do not become pregnant from a "legitimate rape" not only sent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill back to the Senate, but it gave the entire party a poor image with women. The damage deepened after leading Republicans, perhaps afraid of antagonizing the hard-core right wing of the party, refused to denounce Akin for the offensive remarks.
In Virginia's gubernatorial election, Republicans should be leading. It's a swing state now in presidential elections, largely because of the growth of Democratic-leaning Northern Virginia. But it's still a fairly conservative state, especially when it comes to local elections.
The Democratic nominee, Terry McAuliffe, has come under fire for some business practices and for his career as a Democratic party official. Still, he leads socially conservative, anti-abortion GOP candidate Ken Cucinelli, and the overwhelming reason is the female vote. McAuliffe is ahead 47 percent to 39 percent, according to a recent Washington Post poll, but leads among women by a stunning 24-point margin.
Enter Wendy Davis, who could have the same galvanizing effect among female voters in other elections as GOP contenders have had (in a negative way) in theirs. A Davis candidacy might not be successful in the Texas governor's race, but the high profile of the campaign will keep attention on the issues which helped Democrats keep the Senate in the last two election cycles. The GOP may wisely convince its most gaffe-happy members to shut up when it comes to matters like rape and contraception. But Davis will be talking.