Few things seem to send a thrill up the leg of polling wizards than writing off candidates before a race has even begun.
"Wendy Davis Won't Win," blared the headline of a recent New Republic piece by Nate Cohn, the magazine's resident numbers-cruncher.
Cohn's analysis was mostly accurate, but these high-and-mighty dismissals ignore one immutable fact of politics: Campaigns and candidates matter.
Just ask Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Todd Akin.
Texas offers a wonderful example. The state's last Democratic governor, Ann Richards, began her campaign in 1990 in a 27-point hole against a well-funded Republican named Clayton Williams.
But "Claytie" did himself in on the campaign trail with a series of damaging gaffes -- he once refused to shake hands with Richards at a candidate's forum, and he made a rape joke that haunted him throughout the campaign. Meanwhile, Richards leveraged her natural charisma and appeal to suburban women to eke out a three-point win that November.
4. The Texas Hispanic boom
According to the 2010 census, the Hispanic population in Texas ballooned by almost 3 million during the previous decade, and it's safe to assume that number has only expanded since then. Much as it does nationally, this demographic trend in Texas works unmistakably in the favor of the Democrats, who have capitalized on the abrasive anti-immigrant rhetoric emanating from conservative pockets of the Republican Party.
In the 2010 governor's race, for example, Democrat Bill White won Hispanic voters, who made up about 17% of the vote that year, by a nearly 2-1 margin (the flip side of the math here is that White's opponent, Perry, swamped him overall by racking up a huge margins among "Anglos," as they say in Texas).
But Davis can't take Hispanic voters for granted, argued Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri, who said he has five full-time staffers assigned to outreach efforts in Spanish-speaking communities. Munisteri said Texas Republicans understand the pressing need to expand the party's appeal beyond white voters, noting that the Texas GOP endorsed a guest-worker program into their 2012 party platform, even as conservative activists opposed the idea.
"It's not just policy and whether there is action or inaction," he said. "It's also whether the Republican Party is viewed as welcoming to Hispanic citizens or hostile to Hispanic citizens. We have to come across as sincere that we really want to include Hispanics in the party."
5. The Obama SWAT team
After re-electing the president last year, a handful of field marshals from the Obama campaign turned their eyes to Texas, with its exploding and under-registered Hispanic population, in hopes of growing the electorate and one day moving the state's cache of 38 electoral votes into the Democratic column and forever road-blocking Republican hopes of capturing the White House. They dubbed their new group "Battleground Texas."
The group's organizers have been clear-eyed and honest with reporters about the challenging and long-term nature of the project. Few expect Battleground Texas organizers to register enough Hispanic, African-American and other first-time voters to overcome entrenched GOP advantages in such a narrow time frame.
Even so, Davis will have on her side the brains and muscle behind the most sophisticated voter turnout operation in American political history. That's an unequivocal asset.
Critics have questioned how effective Battleground Texas can be without Obama, a uniquely talented and charismatic figure, at the top of the ticket rallying voters. But this is Texas, where Obama is about as popular as the Oklahoma Sooners.
Pragmatic Democrats are just fine keeping a safe distance from the president, even though Abbott and his team will do their best to make sure that doesn't happen.
6. A potential spoiler
Debra Medina, a Wharton businesswoman and conservative activist, captured nearly 20% of the vote in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary by making a strong play for the nascent tea party movement.
She's currently raising money for a possible 2014 comptroller campaign, but also leaving the door open to an independent run for governor next year, in part because of her not-so-subtle disdain for a long line of establishment-backed GOP figures in her state -- Perry and Abbott chief among them.
"You look at our ticket, and it's all rich white guys," Medina said in an interview. "There are few women and liberty-leaning candidates on the ballot. If we go through the nomination process and end up with are whole bunch of Mitt Romneys on the ticket next November, people aren't going to get excited about it."
Medina said she plans to make a decision about an independent bid for governor by early December, after she decides whether or not to file as a candidate for comptroller. If she does run for the top office, Medina's support would almost certainly draw from the tea party activist wing of the Republican coalition. That would be bad news for Abbott.
7. Suburban women
Davis is most famous for her filibuster of Senate Bill 5, which curtailed access to abortion in Texas after it passed this summer in a special legislative session.
The fight made her an archvillain in the eyes of many conservatives and anti-abortion activists, but it transformed her into a folk hero among left-leaning women's groups, who believe Davis can use the issues of women's health care to drive a wedge between Republicans and female voters.