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Defiant Texas state Senator Davis has overcome long odds before

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - State Senator Wendy Davis, the woman whose 10-hour speech captured national attention and single-handedly slowed the Texas Republican drive to restrict abortion, has overcome long odds before in her life.

While her defiance of the mostly male Texas Republicans may ultimately fail if Governor Rick Perry calls another special session of the legislature, the gambit has propelled her to stardom in a Texas Democratic party that has not won a statewide office in two decades.

She was already considered a possible future candidate for governor before she stood in the Legislature on Tuesday to begin a talk-a-thon that stalled the abortion plan.

Her filibuster was streamed live on websites across the country, transforming her into an attractive and articulate symbol for abortion rights and women's groups fighting to limit restrictions on legal abortion in the United States.

The Texas law would ban abortion after 20 weeks pregnancy, with few exceptions, and impose a host of other restrictions.

"We always knew she's a rock star, it's just now I think the rest of the country knows it, too," said fellow Democratic state Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio.

Part of Davis' appeal is a personal story that took her from an underprivileged background and living in a trailer park with a young daughter, to the Capitol Dome in Austin.

Davis, 50, started working at age 14 to help support her single mother and by 19 was a single mother herself, according to her campaign website. She studied at a community college and went on to graduate from Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School.

During the filibuster, she spoke in personal terms of how the local Planned Parenthood clinic was her health refuge in those early years.

She served for nine years on the Fort Worth city council and was elected to the state Senate in 2008, upsetting a longtime incumbent. Despite a Republican redrawing of election lines last year, she was narrowly reelected.

Davis has used the filibuster to frustrate majority Republicans before, temporarily blocking approval of cuts in education funding in 2011.

A June poll from the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune showed that 58 percent of registered voters in the state had no opinion about Davis. That has almost certainly changed.

"She's definitely received a lot of attention over the past 24 hours, just really an unimaginable amount," said Austin-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak. "That translates into an ability to raise money and an online army that no Democrat in Texas had 24 hours ago."

With a rising Hispanic population, Democrats in the nation's second most populous state hope they can eventually turn Texas a shade of Democratic blue.

But Mackowiak doubts Davis could win a statewide office in Texas in 2014, because he said a successful statewide Democrat would need to be more moderate and business-friendly.

Perry, the longest serving governor in the nation, is expected to announce soon whether he will seek reelection.

"In the heat of the moment right now, certainly there are a lot of people that just want her to call a press conference and declare her candidacy for the governorship," said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. "But I think it will take more careful consideration than that."

(Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Chris Reese)

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