Wendy Davis is finally hitting a groove.
Greg Abbott’s campaign calls it “despicable,” but her new-found concentration on rape victims is at least putting her in control of the campaign dialogue in the governor’s race.
Democrat Davis, a Fort Worth state senator who became a national figure overnight just over a year ago with an 11-hour filibuster against a bill to make abortions harder to obtain, has had a wandering campaign message.
But in the past few weeks, since Fort Worth state Rep. Chris Turner became her campaign manager, she seems to have hit a groove: take Republican Abbott’s record as attorney general, and on the Texas Supreme Court before that, and rub his nose in it. Repeatedly.
Abbott had hoped to coast into the governor’s mansion, and the strong odds in Red-State Texas certainly favor it. A Democrat hasn’t won statewide in Texas since 1994, so winning his party’s nomination is considered as a safe ticket to election in November as it was for Democrats half a century ago.
Also, Abbott hasn’t been seriously challenged for attorney general since his election in 2002, so he’s quietly squirreled away tens of millions of dollars in his campaign account, waiting for the time Rick Perry would finally leave the governor’s office.
Her recent focus on rape enforcement is a not-so-subtle understanding that to have a chance to win, Davis needs a sizable lead with female voters. Although a recent Rasmussen poll showed her closing on Abbott – 40 percent to his 48 – he’s been running about even with her among women.
Davis’s most recent ad is an atypically long 60-second dramatic critique of Abbott’s ruling in a 1998 Texas Supreme Court case in which a woman sued the Kirby vacuum cleaner company because one of its door-todoor salesmen raped her in her home in 1993. Turned out he had a history of sexual problems, including being on probation for two felony counts of indecency with a child.
Kirby argued that its salespersons were hired by independent contractors, and thus it had no responsibility for background checks.
But six justices agreed the woman had a right to sue Kirby, because it also required that its salespeople do in-home demonstrations. Abbott was one of three dissenters, arguing that Kirby had no responsibility. Davis’s ad closed with the tagline, “Greg Abbott. Another insider. Not working for you.”
Her ad went up the same day Abbott began a significant buy of a 30-second ad, featuring his Mexican-American mother-in-law saying he’s a really good son-in-law, who would make a really good governor.
Both the Abbott ad and Davis’s are being broadcast in Spanish and English.
In the week following the release of the ads, Davis has gone to Texas major cities for events underlining her legislative championing of reducing the backlog of unexamined rape kits – evidence taken from women after they have been raped.
Davis had authored and the Legislature passed bills to inventory and speed up checking rape kits, which turned up 18,500 unexamined kits, and requiring that hospital emergency rooms treat victims of sexual assault, which some had earlier refused to do.
The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday, Aug. 13, that Abbott had also sided with companies against rape victims in four of five other cases while he was a Supreme Court justice. In the weeks before the ads began running statewide, Davis had developed a theme linking actions by Abbott as attorney general on behalf of interests that contributed to his campaigns.
In an Austin press conference Aug. 5, Davis charged that:
Abbott had intervened in a lawsuit against liability for a hospital that employed a doctor who “killed, paralyzed and maimed patients.” The hospital’s board chairman gave him $350,000 in campaign contributions.
Laid down in a “sweetheart deal” settling a class-action case against Farmer’s Insurance over Texas homeowners, and got almost $700,000 in campaign contributions from “Farmers Insurance, their lawyers and lobbyists.”
Favored chemical companies, like the fertilizer plant that exploded in West, Texas, by saying they didn’t have to disclose their hazardous chemicals, while getting more than $100,000 from chemical interests including the Koch brothers.
Favored payday lenders by allowing large interest rates and fees, while getting $300,000 in contributions from them.
Abbott’s campaign insists there is no connection between his actions as attorney general and his campaign contributions.
Abbott’s campaign tried to paint Davis as a flipflopper on the death penalty, because she has said this year that she favors it, but voted for studying a moratorium on it in 2000 on the Fort Worth city council.
But Team Abbott’s attempt was pretty weak, because Texas has had a history of prisoners later exonerated. There since have been improvements in DNA testing, and life without parole added as an alternative sentence to death.
DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458 2963.