A Social Issues Candidacy

Sen. Mark Udall has made social issues a prominent focus in his campaign against Republican Cory Gardner, so much so that The Denver Post joked that if the race “were a movie, the set would be a gynecologist’s office, complete with an exam table and a set of stirrups.” Udall has not only dinged Gardner for past support of an unpopular personhood amendment, but also run an ad claiming that Gardner was engaged in a decade-long campaign to “outlaw contraception.” Udall has been dubbed “Mark Uterus” for these efforts and his lead in the polls has shrunk to a tie.

But in the case of Wendy Davis, the miscalculation about how far social issues could carry liberals is even clearer.

Davis was an obscurity in the Democratic Party before her 2013 filibuster of abortion regulations that threatened Texas clinics with closure. Fascination with her shoes exceeded that normally given to the Roman Pontiff‘s footwear. The money poured in. Here was a national figure for the moment, a Joan of Arc ready to win the War on Women.

Alas, social issues are not enough. Polls show that Attorney General Greg Abbott, an anti-abortion Catholic, is attracting as much or more support from Texas women as Wendy Davis.

His bottom line:

[S]ocial issues are rating near the bottom of voter concerns heading into the 2014 election. Abortion and other social issues rarely rate more than a few percentage points above zero when Gallup polls voters on their concerns. It turns out that the Republican implosion on social issues in 2012 was not a prelude to Democratic triumphs on the same.

Judis takes a close look at Democrats’ chances in Texas. He focuses on Davis’ weakness with Hispanic voters:

Success in mobilizing the Hispanic vote … depends on nominating candidates in Texas (and also nationally) who can appeal to these voters. According to several Democrats I talked to, Davis hasn’t “connected” to these voters. In the primaries, she even lost several small counties to a token Hispanic opponent. She is principally known in the state for her stand on behalf of abortion rightswhereas many of Texas’s Hispanics oppose abortion. Democrats urged San Antonio’s former mayor Julian Castro, now the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to run, but he declined, probably one San Antonio political leader speculated, because he feared certain defeat.

But there are places where she may have made inroads:

By garnering support in the Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and El Paso metro areas, the Democrats might be able to get the 30 percent or more of the [white] vote they need in presidential elections, and eventually the 35 percent they need in state elections.

In these metro areas, Texas Democrats can attract the same white voters who boosted Democrat hopes in states like Virginia and North Carolina: younger voters, who came of age after the Reagan-Bush era, professionals, and women. Davis’s candidacy has probably helped among these voters. In a late September poll that showed Davis behind Abbott by fourteen points, she still had an edge among women and voters 18 to 44, while getting trounced among male and older voters. (In the same poll, Davis only get 50 percent of Hispanic vote.)