AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis abruptly replaced her campaign manager Wednesday — the latest sign that a campaign that began with national fanfare and sky-high hopes of a major blue victory in the heart of one of America's reddest states has floundered against a strong Republican favorite.
Davis replaced top national strategist Karin Johanson with state Rep. Chris Turner, saying in a statement that she needed the help of someone who had "fought — and won — tough races in this state."
While Davis opened as a decided underdog against long-serving and well-funded Attorney General Greg Abbott, Democrats statewide and nationally were hopeful that she would be able to overcome long odds and score her party's first win in a statewide office race in 20 years — the nation's longest such streak.
Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, has raised more than $16 million. But she's struggled to define herself on any issue beyond her 12-plus hour filibuster in the state Legislature last summer against tough new abortion restrictions statewide. Her effort delayed the measure, but it was eventually and overwhelmingly approved in a later special legislative session.
Johanson, who joined the campaign in October, managed the campaign of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the Wisconsin Democrat who became the first openly gay candidate elected to the U.S. Senate. Her appointment had been intended to show the national firepower of the Davis campaign.
Still, Johanson stayed positive Wednesday, saying in a statement that she suggested Turner as her replacement.
"I am proud of what we have all built in this campaign," Johanson wrote, adding that she "going to go home and spend some time this summer with my 90-year old father and lose the pounds I gained from eating tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner."
She concluded: "Even from the sidelines I will still #StandWithWendy," a Twitter hashtag that became famous around Texas — and in liberal circles nationally — during Davis' filibuster.
Matt Hirsch, a spokesman for the Abbott campaign, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Turner, a state representative, once lost his seat in a North Texas district then won it back. He was previously a campaign manager for former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards.
"His commitment to the people of Texas is unparalleled and demonstrated in his service in the state legislature," Davis said in a statement. "He is an honorable public servant, a highly regarded political strategist and a friend who believes in my vision for all Texans."