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State Sen. Wendy Davis running for governor of Texas

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, speaks at a rally Thursday in Haltom City, Texas. (Associated Press)
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, speaks at a rally Thursday in Haltom City, Texas. (Associated Press)

HALTOM CITY, Texas – Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis declared her candidacy for governor of Texas on Thursday, promising to focus on the needs of average Texans.

Speaking before a hometown crowd where she received her high school diploma, Davis staked out the middle ground and said she would focus on uniting people to improve public education, economic development and health care in Texas.

“Texans don’t want to sit back and watch Austin turn into Washington, D.C.,” Davis said. “State leaders in power keep forcing people to opposite corners to prepare for a fight instead of coming together to get things done.”

Davis has said that her experience going from being a single teen mother to a successful Harvard-trained attorney informs her political views and her commitment to Texas’ middle-class residents.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry has chosen not to seek re-election next year. The front-runner for the GOP nomination is Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said Thursday that Davis is too liberal for Texas.

Davis rose to national prominence in June for her nearly 13-hour filibuster against new abortion restrictions in Texas. Yet on Thursday, the Fort Worth lawmaker did not mention abortion. Instead, she talked about her 2011 filibuster to block passage of the state budget after the Republican majority cut $5 billion for public schools.

Davis’ opponents plan to use her support for abortion rights to rally conservative Christian voters next fall.

If her defense of abortion rights angered the right, it inspired Democrats who urged her to run for governor in 2014 and reinvigorate a party that hasn’t won statewide office since 1994. Her speech in the Legislature also added to her donor list, both in Texas and across the country.

Davis must raise money quickly to compete with Abbott, who has already raised $25 million to her more than $1 million.

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.