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Passion Around Abortion Debate Sparks Support for TX Politicians

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

What happens when the whole world tunes in to watch the end of a Texas legislative session? In the few days since the first 2013 special session ended last week -- and the new one that starts today, Texas politicians have been using the abortion issue to raise money or assess how much support they have.  

Austin resident Jordon Brown was at the Capitol building on June 25 to witness the filibuster launched by State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, against Senate Bill 5. It would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and required abortion clinics to upgrade their facilities, among other provisions. 

"At the Capitol that night, we really didn't start talking about Wendy Davis' future until probably after 2:30 a.m., once we knew we won the fight," Brown said. "Up until then we were still talking about SB 5 and what was happening," said Brown, a 30-year-old grad school student at Texas State University.

Since Wednesday morning, he’s donated to Sen. Davis and to Battleground Texas, a group trying to get Democrats elected through grassroots voter mobilization.

"I certainly donated more than I had planned to," Brown said. "The day after the filibuster I gave $50 to Battleground Texas and to Wendy Davis. The day after that, they sent out another email asking for money and so I gave another $25 to Battleground Texas."

A lot of people have begun talking about a Wendy Davis campaign for governor. Less than 48 hours after her filibuster ended, Sen. Davis had more collected more supporters than ever – and was already fundraising. The @WendyDavisTexas Twitter account asked for “$10 or whatever you can today”  with a link to a page where donors put in their credit card digits. She posted a similar message on Facebook.

"Since I strongly support the constitutionally guaranteed right for a woman to choose, anytime a threat is made it makes me want to donate money immediately to anyone willing to fight that threat," Brown said.

Gov. Rick Perry is also using the abortion filibuster to mine for supporters:  By Friday the Twitter account @TeamRickPerry was using the hashtag #chooselifeTX and asking supporters to text "LIFE" to a number.

Texas Eagle Forum President Cathy Adams plans to encourage others to join her in donating to Gov. Perry and other candidates who support the abortion legislation.

"We are going to encourage our friends who are like-minded, who are pro life not those pro-death," Adams said. "We will motivate them to get out in this political process to put their dollars on the line for candidates who will stand up and be unashamed and unafraid to speak out for life."

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said for either party, fundraising around an issue like abortion helps identify core followers, and raise money.

"Sen. Davis, leading an 11-hour filibuster, it caught enormous amount of national attention," Mackowiak said. "It blew up on social media and she was able to demonstrate from her perspective leadership on that issue and for people who feel passionate on abortion rights, they were feeling pretty motivated to contribute and try to help her."

But the next few months will be make or break for her, if she's even planning a run for governor, he added.

"A governor’s race is $20, $25, $30 million to win it," Mackowiak said. "Wendy Davis would have a tremendous challenge ahead of her because there’s no [Democratic] statewide elected officials in Texas so she’s starting from scratch."

Democrat Matt Angle said Wendy Davis’ filibuster may have generated a lot of passion from a lot of unexpected supporters – but whether that translates into reliable campaign cash is another question.

"Sometimes people lose sight of just how big the state of Texas is," he said. "You’ve got over a dozen very large and expensive media markets and if you’re going to truly communicate with voters in Texas it’s an expensive proposition."

Neither Gov. Perry nor Sen. Davis has yet announced a run for governor. But there’s no prohibition on fundraising during a special session, unless it starts before 20 days after the end of a regular legislative session. The second 2013 special session starts today at 2 p.m.

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