Addressing hundreds of volunteers on Saturday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis highlighted her efforts to mobilize Texas voters and once again attacked her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, for being what she called a political “insider.”
Davis also talked gender equality in the workplace — which she's made a centerpiece of her campaign — and reaffirmed her stance on making pre-K accessible to Texas children.
“The real priority of Texas is to make sure our kids, every child, gets an opportunity to be a part of 21st century education,” she said.
The crowd at Davis' event on Saturday was made up of the campaign's neighborhood team leaders — the top layer of her grassroots campaign. Polls show Abbott is leading Davis, who faces a steep uphill climb to win in a state that hasn’t seen a Democrat elected governor in decades.
The statewide volunteers had traveled to Austin Community College for an all-day summit on how to mobilize voters. The event was preparation for next Saturday, when Davis' campaign officially kicks off its door-to-door canvassing. Davis campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said volunteers would head out in their own neighborhoods to provide a "local emphasis."
“You’ve recruited an army the likes of which Texas has never seen,” Davis said to a boisterous crowd, many of whom she identified in her speech as being public school teachers.
The Davis campaign says it currently has 14,225 volunteers, and that the number is climbing. It has the sizeable support of Battleground Texas, a PAC founded by former Obama campaign field director Jeremy Bird and devoted to optimizing the blue vote in Texas by targeting eligible minority voters who are not registered.
Abbott has been critical of Battleground Texas; last year, in a speech, he called it “an assault far more dangerous” than the threats of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
In her address on Saturday, Davis accused Abbott of not only perpetuating inequality but also benefiting from it. She highlighted the fact that Abbott cited controversial thinker Charles Murray in his pre-K plan. Murray has come under fire for taking positions linking race and gender to academic and professional aptitude.
Davis also went after Abbott in his role as the state's chief attorney for defending the $5.4 billion in cuts lawmakers made to public education in 2011, including $200 million for pre-K programs.
“This week, he had the audacity to offer up a pre-K proposal while simultaneously defending these cuts,” she said. Her own education plan, Great Schools: Great Texas, involves restoring the 2011 education cuts, full-day pre-K, the recruitment of quality teachers and the reduction of standardized testing. Davis has not said what her plan will cost.
The Abbott campaign has downplayed Davis' efforts to directly tie Abbott to an author who is cited in the footnotes of his early education plan. Abbott's own plan calls for reforming pre-K programs before expanding access, and tying additional funding to academic outcomes. Abbott proposes providing an additional $1,500 per student on top of the funding the state already provides for half-day pre-K programs if the program meets performance requirements set by the state — at a cost of $118 million for the 2016-17 biennium.
"Greg Abbott is advancing a vision that will make Texas no. 1 in the nation for education," Abbott campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch said in a statement. "Sen. Davis, on the other hand, is running a campaign focused on scoring petty political points and playing Beltway-style gotcha games."