DALLAS — Democrat Wendy Davis said Saturday it's "absurd" to suggest her chances of becoming Texas governor are fading as some supporters grow restless with a campaign fortified with national exposure and money that still lags against Republican Greg Abbott.
"We have four months left," Davis told reporters. "I trust that people are going to commit the energy to make this happen. I truly do."
The Fort Worth state senator is confronting new questions about a path to victory at a highly visible time in her underdog run. She marked the anniversary this week of her star-making filibuster that temporarily blocked new statewide abortion restrictions and headlined the Texas Democratic Convention that ended Saturday.
Davis maintained her star magnetism among 6,000 party delegates and fired up a convention hall with a keynote speech that mentioned Abbott 30 times. But delegates — even some decked in the same pink tennis shoes Davis famously wore during her nearly 13-hour filibuster last summer — also bemoaned a loss of momentum and speculated what it means that Davis switched campaign managers earlier this month.
Polls showing Davis trailing Abbott by double digits have persisted despite robust fundraising and her being the most visible Democrat to run for governor in Texas since Ann Richards.
"I have run two very tough campaigns to win my election to the Senate. In the first one, I was farther behind than this," said Davis, who was first elected to the Senate in 2009.
Abbott has begun trying to frame Davis as desperate after months of mostly hammering her on ethics allegations and her flying coast to coast to raise money. Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said Davis was running a "floundering campaign" and that her message isn't sticking with voters.
But Davis and party leaders insist the real race is only just beginning.
She said there was "no way" that Abbott could match volunteer support that she put at 18,000 people and counting. Davis has also yet to begin airing television spots and is expected to have the money to stay competitive with Abbott on the airwaves.
Davis said "this is the time when people begin to pay attention to message." She and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa also questioned polling that they said wasn't capturing all their support.
"You cannot gauge what's going to happen by polling at this point in time," Hinojosa said. "I would rather (not) be 12 points behind in the polls. But I understand that a lot of work remains to be done and that we can close this gap in the period of time that it needs to be done."
Other Democrats aren't as optimistic.
Karen Eilert, a nurse from Seguin, arrived at the convention wearing one of the orange "Stand With Wendy" T-shirts that have been ubiquitous since the filibuster last summer. But of Davis' chances in November, Eilert said, "I don't believe Sen. Davis is going to win. I really think it's a tough road ahead."
Her mother, Catherine McAnarney, chimed in that she wished Davis was a little more like the spitfire Richards. Delegate Renee Watson of San Antonio said Davis' campaign has had "operational issues" but said she looked like a better candidate during an impassioned speech earlier this week to commemorate the filibuster anniversary.
Robert Shirk, a delegate from Austin, said that speech felt like a new start for Davis. His wife had an idea on how to recapture the campaign's momentum.
"Through getting people to stand up and scream for three hours," said Karan Shirk, 58, a nurse. "A powerful motivating message. You know, 'We haven't left you. We're still here.'"
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber