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Filibuster shines spotlight on former teen mom, Harvard lawyer

June 27, 2013 at 1:27 a.m.

Members of the gallery cheer and chant as the Texas Senate tries to bring an abortion bill to a vote as time expires Wednesday in Austin. Amid the deafening roar of abortion-rights supporters, Texas Republicans huddled around the Senate podium to pass new abortion restrictions, but whether the vote was cast before or after midnight is in dispute. If signed into law, the measures would close almost every abortion clinic in Texas.

AUSTIN (AP) - As she spoke late into the night, railing against proposed abortion restrictions, a former Texas teen mom catapulted from little-known junior state senator to national political superstar in pink tennis shoes.

Wendy Davis needed last-minute help from shrieking supporters to run out the clock on the special session of the state Legislature and kill the bill, but her old-fashioned filibuster earned her widespread praise from fellow abortion-rights supporters - including a salute from President Barack Obama.

Davis was on her feet for more than 12 hours Tuesday - actively speaking most of that time - as Democrats sought to use her one-woman marathon speech to derail a bill that would have closed nearly every abortion clinic in the nation's second most populous state.

As a midnight deadline loomed and Davis continued to talk, political junkies from coast-to-coast tuned in via Internet, and Davis' followers on Twitter ballooned from about 1,200 to more than 79,000.

Suddenly, photos of the running shoes were everywhere and #StandWithWendy was trending.

Obama's official Twitter account posted: "Something special is happening in Austin tonight." Similar messages of support came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

All this for a 50-year-old Harvard-educated attorney and one-time single mother from Fort Worth, once dismissed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry as a "show horse." Until recently, Davis was perhaps best known for dating former Austin Mayor Will Wynn.

But Davis' sudden surge in popularity came as no surprise to Texas Democrats, who chose her as the face of the battle to block the bill.

"She's a total fighter," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. "And the thing about Sen. Davis, she says she's going to do something, she gets it done."

Davis' filibuster ultimately lasted about 11 hours before Republicans complained she had strayed off topic and cut her off. But that action prompted a lengthy debate with Democrats and deafening protests from hundreds of orange-clad abortion-rights activists in the gallery that spilled past the midnight deadline to kill all pending legislation.

Even after she'd stopped speaking, however, Davis continued to stand for more than an additional hour while her colleagues argued about whether her filibuster was really over.

"Thanks to the powerful voices of thousands of Texans, #SB5 is dead," Davis tweeted Wednesday morning. "An incredible victory for Texas women and those who love them."

Davis started working at age 14 to help support a household of her single mother and three siblings. By 19, she was already married and divorced with a child of her own. After community college, she graduated from Texas Christian University before being accepted to Harvard Law School.

She returned to Texas to become a Fort Worth City Council member before upsetting an incumbent Republican for a seat in the state Senate.

"We knew about her on the City Council," said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. "And we knew her track record as someone you could count on in the heat of battle."

Davis narrowly retained her Senate seat during elections last year, but her victory allowed the Democrats to hold 12 of the chamber's 31 seats, just enough to block contentious bills from coming to the floor. She is up for re-election again in 2014, though Democratic operatives have already begun a whisper campaign urging her to run for governor.

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