By Karen Brooks
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who staged a filibuster against abortion restrictions, has begun telling supporters she will run for governor against a well-financed Republican in what could be one of the top matchups in the 2014 U.S. elections.
Davis, 50, gained national attention when she talked for nearly 11 hours on the Texas Senate floor in June to temporarily block new restrictions on abortion.
Highly placed Texas Democrats, who asked that they not be identified because Davis will not make a formal announcement until October 3, said they have been alerted by Davis directly or through her staff that she has decided to run.
"The short answer is, of course she's running for governor," one influential Texas operative said. "I'm impressed that they've been able to maintain secrecy for this long."
A second Democratic operative said he has been discussing strategy with Davis's staff about an inevitable run for governor.
Asked about the reports, Davis adviser Hector Nieto said: "She has made her decision and is looking forward to making that decision public."
Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in two decades. Davis is expected to face a formidable Republican opponent in Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Republican Governor Rick Perry is not running for re-election.
Davis's filibuster drew huge nationwide interest and several websites streamed it live. The filibuster ultimately failed to stop the abortion proposal from becoming law because Republicans hold a strong majority in the Texas legislature.
In the days after the filibuster, Davis quickly raised about $1 million, but Abbott has a monumental lead in fund-raising with a war chest of nearly $25 million.
Jason Stanford, a prominent Democratic consultant in Austin, said he believes Davis would be able to raise the needed money as long as she can close some recent poll numbers showing her behind Abbott.
"I think what they need to see is her running close and having a real shot," he said. "The last poll I saw showed her running 10 points behind. That will be the most expensive 10 points to close up, but I think it is doable."
Democrats also hope Davis will energize their party in a state dominated by Republicans, but with a rising population of Hispanics who have tended to vote Democratic.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio and Marice Richter in Dallas; Editing by Greg McCune and Leslie Adler)