In Texas, Wendy vs. the Godmother

Ever since Barack Obama swept his way into the White House, political scribes have talked about Texas — the biggest of Republican states — slowly morphing into a purplish battleground.

One way to check on that progress: the fate of Wendy Davis’ gubernatorial run in the Lone Star State. She’s the state senator who came to national attention last year after a 13-hour filibuster against proposed abortion restrictions. That fight made her the darling of pro-choice Democrats, who convinced her to run governor (note to self: if you’re thinking of running for office in Texas, don’t let yourself get talked into it by a bunch of swells living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan).

Since that rise to notoriety, it’s been tough sledding for Davis. Her campaign stumbled out of the gates when it was reported that certain aspects of her hard-scrabble bio weren’t necessarily so. It didn’t help matters when she slammed her opponent, Republican Greg Abbott, as someone who “hasn’t walked a day in my shoes”. The problem with that broadside: Abbott’s been paraplegic since he was 26. Ouch. Compounded with her weak showing in the March primary, and it spelled big warning signs.

About the Texas race: a Rasmussen Reports poll released last week as Abbott ahead by 8%, down from a 12% spread back in March (a July survey performed by YouGov showed Davis down by 17% — just as troubling: only 2% were undecided). Meanwhile, other polls throughout the spring and summer have had Davis trailing by double digits.

So how does Davis make a race of it?

She does have money in the bank — her campaign reported having raised $9.8 million. Add it to the $4.9 million collected by the Democrats’ Texas victory Committee and puts her on a level playing field with Abbott, who’s raised $11 million since the March primary.

What won’t help matters for Davis, this:

It’s a 60-second ad by the Davis campaign attacking Abbott’s record as a Texas Supreme Court justice (he dissented on a case involving a woman attacked and raped by a door-to-door vacuum salesman). The problem, as Washington Post contributor Diana Reese surmises: it’s the kind of stereotypical attack one wouldn’t expect from the woman who was supposed to reinvent Texas politics with her red running shoes and courage to take a stand for what she believes.

Texas hasn’t been home to an open-seat governors race since 1990, when Democratic State Treasurer Ann Richards took down Midland businessman Clayton Williams. Richards won that race by less than 3%; four years later, she lost to George W. Bush by 7.5%. Since then, only once has a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful come with 10% of the Republican candidate (Rick Perry winning by 9.2% in a four-way race).

Wendy Davis’ campaign, having changed campaign managers in June and flirting with a double-digit deficit in the polls, would seem in line with the trend. Let’s see what her next advertising move is: if she stay negative, or tries something biographical or more policy-positive.

btw, Abbott’s campaign also put out a new ad. It features the candidate’s mother-in-law (she’s also his madrina, or church godmother), talking in both English and Spanish about her son-in-law’s character.

In other words, the kind of uplifting ad that Davis’ supporters probably would have preferred.

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