Down in the polls, Wendy Davis reaches for the gutter with ad suggesting Greg Abbott is soft on rape.
Wendy Davis’s run for governor against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is one of the most high profile top-ticket races in the country.
The political class (if not yet voters at large) is keeping a close eye on the back-and-forth battle for control of the narrative, and the latest ad from the Wendy Davis campaign has ignited a firestorm of controversy.
The ad, titled “A Texas Story,” tells the story of a woman from Seguin, Texas who was raped in her home by a door-to-door Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman. The woman’s attempt to sue Kirby for damages went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, which eventually held that the victim did have a right to sue the corporation for the actions of the salesman.
Then-Justice Greg Abbott, however, dissented. He said that the Kirby corporation had “no duty” to the victim because the salesman in question was hired by a distributor. (Two other justices agreed with him.)
The controversy surrounding this ad obviously doesn’t center on the issue of which Justices booked their 1L Torts exam; instead, it centers on the issue that has defined these campaigns from the beginning–gender. Also, emotions (because of course) and the shock of seeing a political ad about a brutal rape. (Some may say the shock of seeing a political ad that exploits rape to gain points with voters, but who’s counting?)
Wendy Davis’s bid for governor is a long shot: at last count, she was polling 12 points behind General Abbott, an extremely popular and effective Attorney General with almost three times as much cash on hand as his opponent. The Davis campaign knows they need to capitalize on shock value, but strategists on both sides of the aisle have serious doubts about whether or not this ad is sending the right message to undecided voters:
GOP strategist Ted Delisi said it may drive up Davis’ own negative ratings. When that happens, he said, undecided voters simply stop listening to any further messaging and “their ability to be persuaded is gone.”
“It’s definitely a high-risk strategy, one in which I suspect may not turn out the way she wants,” Delisi said.
Andrea Grimes, a senior political reporter at RH Reality Check, said she supported Davis and the ad’s overall message, but “it seems unnecessarily sensational and kind of disturbing in a way that makes it look like the campaign is exploiting a rape survivor to make a political point.”
The Abbott campaign offered a strong response to the ad, but failed to hit back with specific examples of how General Abbott has fought for women in Texas:
Abbott’s campaign responded that the ad is “gutter politics.”
“This ad is a continuation of the type of rhetoric we’ve seen from a candidate who is paper-thin on substance and running a failing campaign devoid of any real vision for the future of Texas,” said Abbott spokeswoman Amelia Chasse.
She pointed out that Abbott’s position in the Kirby case would still have allowed the rape victim to sue the independent contractor who hired the rapist.
“No amount of desperate distortion attempts or token ad buys by Sen. Davis can change the facts of Greg Abbott’s record of fighting for Texans,” Chasse said.
The Davis campaign is banking on being able to play off the emotions of voters, but, as mentioned above, this ad may be striking the wrong chord with both victims and victims’ advocates. It’s harsh, and takes over half the ad to get to the tenuous connection between General Abbott and the featured rape.
When I watched the ad for the first time, I hated the rapist, and Kirby, but had almost lost interest by the time the narrator got around to telling me that General Abbott had written a dissent that had no impact on the Court’s ruling. The victim was allowed to sue Kirby, and all was right with the world, so why should I care about a dissent (if I, as a voter, even know what a dissent is or what it means?)
Instead of making an impact with undecided female voters, it’s likely that the Davis campaign has once again outsmarted itself in another transparent attempt to play on the emotions of low-information voters without taking the time to actually attack their opponent.