TODAY

TODAY   |  January 15, 2014

Wendy Davis overcame poverty to rise in politics

NBC’s Maria Shriver talks to outspoken Wendy Davis, a member of the Texas Senate, about the struggles she overcame as a poor, single mom and her ambition to be the next governor of the Lone Star State.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> and now more of our special series doing it all. our helpathon is underway, up and running. one woman who knows them all too well is democratic texas state senator wendy davis , maria shriver is down in washington, d.c. and has her story. good morning to you.

>> good morning, savannah. thanks so much. wendy davis became a familiar name last year when she stood in her pink tennis shoes for 11 hours to defeat a texas abortion bill. even though the bill eventually passed, davis became a star and her story, her personal story resinated across this country.

>> everybody says wendy davis is an overnight sensation . does it irritate you that people call you an overnight sensation ?

>> i'm not an overnight sensation . i'm a texan, and i'm a texas success story. i am the epitome of hard work and optimism.

>> wendy davis was catapulted into the spotlight last june when her phil buster caught the nation's attention.

>> the capitol literally felt like it was alive that day.

>> reporter: her story was forged a long way from the austin state capital . davis grew up poor and at the age of 18 found herself pregnant and married. by 19, she was getting divorced and living in a mobile home park.

>> you haven't been back here since you lived here.

>> that's right.

>> when you look at this place, what are you feeling right now?

>> a homecoming of sorts. i tried really hard not to put this in the rearview mirror . i've tried to keep it present.

>> reporter: her early struggles, she says, have formed everything in her political and personal life . she attended community college near ft. worth while working two jobs to keep food on the table.

>> when you came to study here in this library at this community school , did you feel that you were living in poverty? that you were quote, unquote poor?

>> i knew i was poor because of the struggles that i and my young daughter amber were experiencing. i was having a really hard time making ends meet, paying for my child care, a car payment, and making sure i kept the lights turned on, sometimes didn't happen.

>> her daughter amber is now 31.

>> i remember the trailer was very small and very bare. we didn't have a lot to live on. i remember staying with my grandparents a lot while she did go to school and go to work.

>> davis married again for a time and had her second daughter drew. life was looking up and she set her sights on one of the most prestigious law schools in the country.

>> you approved to harvard law school , you get in, how shocked are you?

>> on my mailbox was the big envelope. it was absolutely a dream come true.

>> the practice of law eventually opened the door to politics. davis served nine years on the ft. worth city council .

>> senator wendy davis .

>> then the state senate . and last year, she threw her hat into the ring for governor. evan smith is the editor in chief of the " texas tribune."

>> is wendy davis more of a national star than a texas star ?

>> she's attracting a lot of attention nationally and internationally. but at the end of the day , the people who matter are the people in her state. this is a conservative state. so that celebrity outside is great. but it doesn't necessarily translate into votes.

>> reporter: her likely opponent is texas state attorney general greg abbott . he's a man with a conservative record to match the blanket of red that covers most of texas .

>> what difference do you think it'll make if you're the governor?

>> i think that people hopefully will feel more welcome here. they'll feel like that's not an unusual occurrence for their voices to matter.

>> reporter: it has been a long, hard road for wendy davis to have her voice heard. a journey she says she's very proud of. one she fears that other women may not be able to follow.

>> if you told me today that i had to start over and do the whole thing again, i wonder whether i'd be able to. and i worry that other young women like me in texas can't.

>> davis said she is concerned about the rising cost of tuition and fewer opportunities for students to take advantage of financial aid . her story is certainly an example of what a strong education can offer women and men everywhere. matt?