Omar Villafranca, NBC 5 News
Democrat Wendy Davis declared her candidacy for governor of Texas on Thursday. She made the formal announcement at a rally in Haltom City.
Texas Sen. Wendy Davis announced Thursday that she wants to be the next governor of Texas.
Davis made the announcement in front of a hometown crowd at the Wylie G. Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City where she received her high school diploma.
"We love Texas, not only for how good it is, but for how great we know it can be," Davis said in her speech. "With the right kind of leadership, the great state of Texas will keep its sacred promise that where you start has nothing to do with how far you can go."
In June, Davis was catapulted onto the national stage after leading a 13-hour filibuster attempting to block the passage of tough abortion restrictions. The law was temporarily blocked, but later passed during a second special session of the Legislature.
Davis' opponents plan to use her support for abortion rights to rally conservative Christian voters next fall. About 40 anti-abortion demonstrators marched outside the venue where Davis was speaking Thursday, and Texas Right to Life plans to begin airing an ad over the weekend that calls her an "abortion zealot."
Following the filibuster, Davis' personal story of being born to a mother with a sixth-grade education and entering the work force at age 14 to support her family captured the imagination of many of her supporters. They were further energized by her story of being a single mother headed for divorce when she enrolled at Tarrant County Community College at the age of 19. Davis eventually transferred to Texas Christian University before graduating from Harvard University with honors.
Davis said Thursday that she shared her story precisely because she felt it wasn't unique or special, though she worried that Texans today are having a more difficult time creating a better life for themselves. It was in that spirit, in the promise of Texas, that she announced her candidacy for the 48th governor of Texas.
Shortly before taking the stage Thursday, Davis tweeted the following message:
— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) October 3, 2013
"We're here because we want to fight for Texas jobs and help Texas companies grow," Davis said in her speech. "We're here because we want every child, no matter where they start in Texas, to receive a world-class education to take them anywhere they want to go, so that success and opportunity is within reach of every single Texan, and no one in this great state is ever forced to dream smaller instead of bigger."
Various elected Dallas County officials were present at Davis' announcement, including Dallas Councilman Scott Griggs, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and state Sen. Royce West.
Watkins said he is confident Davis can win in her first statewide contest.
"I believe she has an excellent shot," he said. "This is evidence here, with this crowd. Last time I saw a crowd like this was when Obama came to Texas."
The primaries for the 2014 gubernatorial race will take place in March. No other notable Democrat has announced a campaign as of yet. The presumptive Republican nominee, Attorney General Greg Abbott, who announced his candidacy in July, has raised nearly $25 million to Davis' $1 million.
Abbott didn't waste any time getting off the first shot in the race. Moments after Davis made her announcement Thursday, Abbott tweeted the following:
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) October 3, 2013
Experts say Davis and the political action committees supporting her will need to spend about $40 million to make it a competitive campaign in Texas, where Democrats have not won more than 42 percent of the vote in the last three elections.
But national Democratic support and changing state demographics give Davis a chance to end the party's 20-year losing streak in Texas, Democratic consultants say.
She was a successful attorney who had served nine years on the Fort Worth City Council when she decided to enter politics by challenging a veteran Republican state senator for District 10 in Tarrant County in 2008. She narrowly won that race and a tough re-election bid in 2012, when most voters in her district cast ballots for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Observers say her ability to win Republican crossover votes will be critical if she expects to beat Abbott, who has the full strength of the GOP establishment behind him.
NBC DFW's Omar Villafranca and The Associated Press' Chris Tomlinson contributed to this report.