The Atlantic

The Woman With the Pink Tennis Shoes Is Walking a Fine Line

Like other Democrats trying to flip Republican-held districts, Wendy Davis is trying to woo moderates without alienating progressives.
Source: Eli Durst

Back in the halcyon days of February, when healing America seemed like a figure of speech and indoor gatherings of more than two maskless people weren’t considered a biohazard, Wendy Davis addressed a 75-person crowd in the clubhouse of a gated community outside San Antonio. It was the third event in as many days for Davis, who was two weeks away from winning the Democratic primary to represent Texas’s Twenty-First Congressional District, a curiously drawn slice of the state that includes downtown Austin, the suburban sprawl of San Antonio, and a rural stretch of Hill Country. Davis delivered her standard stump speech—a tight, policy-driven monologue that features the story of how she, a teen mom living in a trailer park, managed to make it to Harvard Law School, thanks to hard work, Pell Grants, and a Planned Parenthood around the corner—before fanning out to a case for stitching up the holes in today’s social safety net. (Davis’s granddaughters don’t have the same opportunities she did, she said; we owe it to them to change that.) Afterward, a woman in her late 50s with a sensible brown bob and a faint twang pulled the candidate aside. “I got an abortion, and I tell my Sunday-school class about it,” the woman began, her voice cracking. “I just don’t believe in backing down. You just don’t back down.”

Davis nodded sympathetically—she gets this a lot. In 2013, Davis went from Texas state senator to feminist folk hero to effectively close all but five abortion clinics in the state. feminism was sweeping the nation, and Sheryl Sandberg couldn’t have asked for a better standard-bearer for her gospel of sharp-elbowed female empowerment. To avoid giving her (male) Republican opponents even the flimsiest reason to disqualify her, Davis followed Senate rules to the point of. Though her effort to kill the bill ultimately failed, she traveled throughout Texas on a Planned Parenthood bus, disembarking to choruses of young women chanting: “Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!”

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