No one should be surprised by the numbers for the governor’s race in the new UT-Texas Tribune Poll, which show Abbott with a single-digit lead over Wendy Davis. (A previous poll showed Abbott with an 8-point lead; in the current poll, the lead is 6.) Readers will recall that a previous poll showed that virtually every group of voters had “no opinion” about Abbott. His announcement of his plan for Texas fell flat; it offered nothing to Texans who care about improving state services that are vital to families, such as education and health issues; it was all about austerity and take your medicine. Abbott has spent ten years in the relative isolation of the attorney general’s office. His rhetoric in the campaign has been 100% tea party. He says that his top priority is jobs and the economy, but the things he says he wants to do — give the governor an expanded line-item veto, put more limits on state spending, and curtail access to the Rainy Day Fund — don’t create a single job. They just create more power for the governor. Curtailing access to the Rainy Day Fund is the opposite of creating jobs; it ties up money and prevents spending on major infrastructure projects like roads and water conservation.

The situation in this race is quite volatile. The Republican candidate is a longtime officeholder who is barely known by the electorate, whose main attitude toward him is “no opinion”; and who has little experience with or knowledge of state issues other than those arising out of lawsuits he litigated. He sat on the board of CPRIT, the state agency created to fight cancer, but he and members of his staff rarely bothered to show up at meetings, which became a problem when the grants became an issue in the previous session. Does anyone think that Wendy Davis will not bring this up? Of course she will. This time it’s the Democratic candidate who has pizzazz to the max. Abbott has an admirable life story, and a good credential as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, but if he gets in a debate with Wendy Davis over state issues, he is going to find himself in deep water before he has time to draw a breath.

This race is not about abortion, but in a sense it really is. It was the issue that gave Davis her bounce to national prominence, and it is the issue that (Democrats hope) will bring nonaligned suburban women to the polls to vote for Davis. On the Republican side, it is the issue that can be wrapped around Davis’s neck.

What is important right now is that Abbott doesn’t appear to have a lot of forward momentum. He has been running for months, but doesn’t seem to have elevated his favorability. A six-point lead in a race that includes a Libertarian does not inspire confidence. On the other hand, the disaster that is Obamacare is looming over the Democratic party, and the worse it gets, the more Republicans can exploit it to tie Davis to a president who has never been popular in Texas.
AP Photo | Austin American-Statesman, Erika Rich