Wendy Davis went public Thursday with some news that everyone in politics already knew: She's officially running for governor of Texas.
The state senator from Fort Worth electrified Democrats in June by slipping on a pair of pink Mizunos and a back brace to stage a dramatic 11-hour filibuster of a Republican bill that drastically scaled back abortion rights in the state. Never mind that the bill eventually passed in a special legislative session: Democrats around the country were in full swoon mode.
In an e-mail officially announcing her candidacy, she said, "As Texans, we believe that with hard work, determination, and a little old-fashioned common sense, we can build a better future for ourselves and our families.
We can make our communities safer, create jobs, and get Texas moving in the right direction."
Davis, an attractive single mom who worked her way up from a trailer park to make it through Harvard Law School, danced around the question of running for governor all summer but is now ready to make it official. For the beleaguered Democrats of Texas, she represents the best shot at capturing the governor's mansion since George W. Bush ousted Ann Richards in 1994.
But the excitement swirling around her candidacy will quickly give way to a grim reality: Texas is still deep red and socially conservative, dangerous turf for a Democrat best known for standing up for abortion rights. In 2012, Mitt Romney drubbed President Barack Obama by 16 points there.
Smart political types in Washington and Austin have already come to the same conclusion: Davis can't win. They're probably right. Time and again, ambitious Democrats have been tempted by the forbidden fruit of Texas politics -- a seemingly favorable demographic upheaval, driven by thriving urban centers and a booming Hispanic population -- only to come up woefully short.
The task becomes even more challenging in a mid-term year, when Democratic turnout tends to fall off and the white share of the vote spikes, favoring Republicans.
The likely GOP nominee, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, has a substantial war chest, powerful allies and a compelling life story. He became a paraplegic in 1984 when a tree fell on him after a storm, crushing his spine.
But in the spirit of contrarianism, here are eight glimmers of hope for Davis as she tries to pull off what would undoubtedly be one of the biggest upsets of the 2014 cycle.
1. She knows how to win
Winning a state Senate campaign is a far cry from winning a statewide election, especially for a polarizing Democrat in GOP-leaning Texas, but Davis survived two brutal campaigns in a Fort Worth-area district that, in many ways, is a microcosm of the state.
The area's Hispanic population surged over the past decade, and nonwhite voters now make up a majority of Davis's district, particularly in Fort Worth's heavily Hispanic north side.
In 2008, when she first ran for the seat, and in her tough 2012 re-election fight, Davis outworked her opponents in Tarrant County and assembled a coalition of Hispanics, African-Americans, women voters and moderate Republicans to win. Both races were squeakers: She won by less than three points each time.
Davis isn't afraid to throw a punch, either.
In 2008, her campaign nuked the Republican incumbent, Kim Brimer, with negative television ads portraying him as a crooked Austin insider (her supporters snarkily called him "Kim Shady").
Four years later, Gov. Rick Perry and an armada of Republicans pumped time and energy into the race to unseat Davis, but she still beat back her GOP challenger -- even in a district that Obama lost badly.
Davis was first elected to the Fort Worth City Council in 1999 and has not lost a race since. Abbott, who served on the Texas Supreme Court before becoming the state's attorney general in 2002, has not faced a credible opponent, Republican or Democrat, in years.
"I'm very optimistic about Wendy's for upsetting Greg Abbott," said Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, another bright light on Texas's fresh-faced roster of Democrats. "She is a very talented candidate and incredibly hard working. Greg Abbott represents what has become a very extreme wing of the Republican Party. And more independent and moderate Republicans in Texas have had enough of tea party Republicans."
2. Greg who?
In his three re-election bids, Rick Perry laid waste to a trio of Democratic challengers -- Tony Sanchez, Chris Bell and Bill White -- who dared to run statewide with a scarlet D next to their name. Perry's political talents aside, he benefited from the power of incumbency and name recognition. Despite having more than $20 million in the bank, Abbott lacks Perry's star power.
According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released in June, more than half of voters had no opinion of Abbott, including 46% of Republicans.
A Texas Lyceum poll out this week showed Abbott leading Davis 29% to 21%, but showed a majority of voters had no preference in the race, and revealed that 45% of Republicans and almost 80% of independents didn't know enough about Abbott.
Despite her buzz in political circles, Davis is similarly unknown to most voters. But unlike the Democratic gubernatorial candidates who preceded her, she's getting started on a roughly even playing field and has an opportunity to define her opponent early.
3. Campaigns matter