AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Women’s pay and health care are taking over the headlines in the Texas governor’s race, and for good reason: Women comprise the majority of voters.
U.S. Census data shows that in the 2012 general election, 4.72 million Texas women cast ballots compared to 3.92 million men. Democrats know that Wendy Davis can’t make it to the governor’s mansion without female supporters turning out in big numbers, and that statistic gives them hope.
Campaigns also believe women are less likely to vote straight-party tickets, taking the time to choose individual candidates and cross party lines. The 2012 election also saw the largest gender gap in Gallup’s polling history, with President Barack Obama winning among women by 12 percentage points, while Republican Mitt Romney had an 8-point advantage with men.
The Davis campaign was thrilled to see wage discrimination law and equal pay policies take center stage last week, and Planned Parenthood Votes announced its entry into the election scrum to highlight women’s health issues.
With GOP nominee Greg Abbott the hands-down favorite, his campaign must work to maintain the majority of women voters routinely won by Republicans, while Davis has the tougher job of convincing women to switch parties.
Davis has made inroads by highlighting the Lilly Ledbetter Act, a law that gives victims of wage discrimination more time to file a lawsuit. Congress passed the act into federal law, and Davis carried the legislation through the Republican-controlled Legislature to make state law consistent, only to see Gov. Rick Perry veto it.
Under current state law, a victim of wage discrimination must file a lawsuit within 180 days of when their salary is set, not when they discover the bias, which could be years later. After weeks of questioning, Abbott finally came out against the Ledbetter Act, saying he thought existing state and federal equal pay laws were sufficient.
“Republicans made their position abundantly clear to Texas women this week — they can’t support and defend the basic decency of equal pay for an equal day’s work,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.
Abbott’s campaign has tried to turn the issue back onto Davis by pointing out her law firm has represented clients accused of wage discrimination, while another firm that she had ties to was the subject of a harassment claim.
“We’ve found out that Senator Davis represents a public entity charged with gender pay discrimination and that she voted to appropriate hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside legal fees to defend a male Fort Worth employee against a gender discrimination lawsuit,” said Matt Hirsch, Abbott’s communications director. “Now we discover that Senator Davis worked for a law firm accused of bullying an alleged sexual harassment victim who filed suit against a client the firm represented.”
Davis is perhaps best known for her filibuster against new abortion restrictions that have forced about a third of the state’s abortion clinics to close. But this is one issue that she and Abbott both appear happy to avoid for the time being.
Abbott, who is Catholic, opposes abortion in all instances except where the life of the mother is in danger. While this makes him popular with the anti-abortion base of the Republican Party, some polling shows that most Texans support abortion rights.
Planned Parenthood Votes, the group’s political advocacy arm, announced it would campaign to make women’s access to affordable health care, contraception and abortion critical issues in the Texas general election. The group helped a Democrat win in Virginia by highlighting the Republican candidate’s opposition to abortion.
The Davis campaign, though, has tread this topic carefully, aware of another important segment of the electorate, Catholic Hispanics. Hispanics are a growing force in Texas politics, and Catholic bishops adamantly oppose abortion, giving Republicans an ally.
The one group of voters that probably won’t get much attention this year is white men. The Gallup tracking poll shows that 61 percent of them reliably vote Republican.
Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cltomlinson