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Wendy Davis seeks to rouse dormant Democratic giant in Texas

Wendy Davis explains why she believes there is a critical population of Democratic voters in her traditionally Republican state

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor, talks with Rachel Maddow about how foregone conclusions about Republican election dominance has allowed the state's political discourse to stagnate and fostered a sense of hopelessness among Democrats and groups likely to vote Democratic. In her first cable news interview since the publication of her new memoir, "Forgetting to be Afraid," Davis explains why she thinks this burgeoning electorate is powerful enough to put her in the governor's office.

Video and transcript after the jump...

RACHEL MADDOW: Wendy Davis is now running for governor of Texas, against Republican Greg Abbott. Her new book is called "Forgetting To Be Afraid." It's out today, and Senator Davis joins us here tonight for her first cable news interview since its release.

Senator Davis, thanks so much for being here.

WENDY DAVIS: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: So it has been almost two decades since Texas had a Democratic governor and national liberals and Democrats like to talk about Texas turning blue at some point, how do you feel about your chances, and is Texas changing?

DAVIS: I feel very good about my chances, and I think it’s because there are people all over our state that feel that their values have not been reflected in what’s been going on in the failed leadership that we’ve seen in the last decade or so. And we have built an energy and an enthusiasm on the ground that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in our state.

MADDOW: Why are Texas civic participation rates so low? I mean not just among Democratic-leaning demographic groups, but really, across the board in Texas, people don’t participate very much in their democracy.

DAVIS: It’s the lowest in the country, and I attribute it to a couple of things. One, we haven’t had a really hotly, general contested, race in Texas since Anne Richards lost in 1994 and we also aren’t in play in presidential elections. And so over time, when you are not having general election conversations with your electorate, you’re not developing an understanding and a buy-in, and a tuning-in to civic electoral politics and the civic engagement that comes as a consequence of doing that. When I decided to run for governor, that was part of my goal: Making sure that we drove a conversation for people to see what our values are and to really consider, are they being reflected in the leadership that we’ve had. Or is it time, as we look forward to the future of our state, is it time for us to enter that 21st century future path. Is it time for change?

MADDOW: In terms of the eyes of the nation being on Texas, part of the reason that Democrats have been excited about the prospect of organizing Texas, and honestly, excited about the prospects of your campaign, whether or not you ultimately win in November. Is the idea that by organizing Texas, in particular you can reach that huge population of Latino voters in Texas that not only doesn’t vote very much for Texas, doesn’t vote very much compared to other Latinos populations in abutting states. What’s the relationship between the Democratic Party and Latino voters in Texas? Should national Democrats be hanging their hats on that?

DAVIS: Well, it’s disengagement across the board. It’s not just Hispanic voters. It’s African-American voters and Anglo voters as well as well that we see that we see great disengagement in. African-Americans and Hispanic voters, the majority, vote for Democratic candidates. And therefore for Democrats, it’s very important to try to create engagement in those groups. But it really cuts across all populations. And making sure that you’re having conversations with people, face-to-face, door-to-door, about what is going in governance.

For example, all the women who have been impacted by the 2011 budget cuts that closed over 65 family planning and well women care clinics in our state -all of the women that have been impacted by that know the impact. But they don’t know that it happened because political decisions makers made it happen.

MADDOW: Right.

DAVIS: And that’s why these conversations are so important.

MADDOW: On the issue of reproductive rights, obviously your filibuster on the anti-abortion bill in 2013 was a huge political moment in the state and across the country. Why did you save your personal stories about your own experience with abortion for now? I guess, not to disclose during that hotly contested campaign then, why now before your election and why did you do it in the form of a book?

DAVIS: That night, and as I explained in my book, I thought about bringing my personal story forwards as I was reading Carol’s story. And I reflected quickly that that probably wasn’t the right thing to do. I didn’t want to make that day be about me. I wanted it to be about the thousands of women and their spouses or partners who supported them who had wanted so desperately for their voices to be heard. This book is my personal story it’s not a political story. And as I reflected on writing about how I became who I am and why it is that I fight for the things that I fight for, I wanted to put it all out there and to be real. And I wanted and hoped and hope that for young, single, struggling moms who are looking for a path forward, I hope they’ll find something inspiring in what I was able to achieve through education. I hope that women and the men who love them who may be facing very difficult decisions like the one that my former husband and I faced with our daughter, Tate Elise, I hope that they’ll find some comfort in knowing what we went through and how we handled it. These stories are important, I think, for people who are looking for comfort, looking for inspiration, and that’s what I hope to achieve through this book.

MADDOW: There have been conservative critics of yours who have responded to this by saying they doubt your story. The National Review said these revelations about your experience with abortion are convenient and unverifiable. Essentially saying that you’re making it up for political effect. Do you -- if you don’t want to respond to that, you have every right to just not, but if -- do you care to respond?

DAVIS: What I would respond… My family would give anything for this not to be a true story in our lives. We would give anything for that.

MADDOW: Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. The new book is called "Forgetting To Be Afraid." It’s on sale right now and it’s very good. I think it’s an important contribution not only to understanding you but to where we are right now. Thank you for being here.

DAVIS: Thank you, Rachel.