On multiple occasions, I have stuck my neck out to say that State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, needs to run television ads. Among the reasons I gave was that her name recognition is already high, but it is mostly negative. Accordingly, she needs to run out of the gate and hit back hard at her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott. Detractors (also known as those happy campers complacent with mediocrity) retorted that Davis does not need to waste her money before Labor Day, because no one pays attention. My counterargument was that she does not need to buy much air time, but rather run an evocative ad that garnered her a great deal of earned media.
It looks like the Davis campaign took my advice, because that is exactly what happened.
The commercial, a 60 second spot entitled “A Texas Story,” tells the tale of a Texas Supreme Court case in the 1990s in which Abbott wrote the dissent. The case, Read v. Kirby Vacuum, was filed after a door-to-door salesman contracting with Kirby “brutally raped” a woman in her home after being invited inside to demonstrate one of his products. The woman, Dena Read (Editorial note: It is the editorial policy of Texpatriate to not print the names of victims of sexual assault, though Mrs. Read has previously volunteered her name to the press because “she believes she can have a bigger impact that way”), sued the vacuum company after realizing that the salesman, Mickey Carter, was on probation for a sex crime that should have disqualified him from the job, but the company did not “perform a routine background check.”
The case went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, where six justices (4 Republicans and 2 Democrats) ruled that, despite Carter merely being an independent subcontractor, Kirby was still negligent for not providing a background check because he used the Kirby name to get into Read’s home. Two dissents were penned (both by Republicans), and one of them was by Greg Abbott, who has an Associate Justice on the Texas Supreme Court at the time. Abbott’s dissent was joined by yet a third Republican Justice.
The Associated Press summed up this case remarkably well back when it occurred in 1998. You can also read the majority opinion (penned by one of the Democratic Justices) here.
The ad is powerful for the obvious reasons, and Abbott’s campaign has already fired back claiming it was either irrelevant or untrue. I suppose the former claim has some weight, but PolitiFact stepped in yesterday and rated the factual claims in the ad as “mostly true.”
The Houston Chronicle provides fodder for some of the more legitimate criticisms of the ad, however. Namely, that the Davis campaign did not notify Read before launching the ad. And while the commercial did not mention Read by name, the specifics of it were unmistakeable. While a spokesman for the Davis campaign did say that Read was warned about this earlier this year, that is not sufficient.
Political scientists contacted by the Chronicle ranged from calling the revelation “political malpractice” to “a risk.” I honestly do not think it will cause too much of a ruckus for the campaign overall, but it is still in horrendously bad taste to exploit the victim of such a tragic purpose without her consent for political purposes.
Other than that, I thought the ad was a very effective political tool. Like I have said before, Davis needs to do two things: 1) get on television; and 2) go negative. This ad accomplishes both. A columnist in The Washington Post recently took Davis to task for the negative tone of the ad, shying away from substantive policy discussion, and I have only one response to the author: go cry me a river far, far away in your Ivory Tower. I would love more than anything to live in a peaches and cream and unicorns world where voters actually cared about substance or issues, but our reality is far different. Even if you have a sterling record to run on, fear is probably always better tactic; Annise Parker proved that last year.
And Davis isn’t Parker. She doesn’t have years of experience leading one of the biggest cities in the country out of the red and into the promised land. She’s a liberal State Senator. Her climb is significantly harder, and it is unclear how much this strategy will pay off. But it is undoubtedly preferable to the safe solution.
Speaking of which, the Houston Chronicle also notes that Rasmussen Reports has polled the Texas gubernatorial election once more. Davis’ deficit has actually decreased. She now trails 40% to Abbott’s 48%. Rasmussen meanwhile, now pegs the race as “Leans GOP” rather than “Safe GOP.”
The poll actually represents the first momentum in any poll that Davis has had since last summer. Back in March, Rasmussen estimated the race as “Abbott 53, Davis 41.” Accordingly, not only did Abbott’s lead shrink by 33% from 12 points to 8 points, but Abbott fell below the invaluable 50-percent mark in polling. Rather than Davis actually “closing the gap,” so to speak, in fact, the change had much more to do with Abbott’s support eroding faster than Davis’. While Davis actually lost 1 point of support, Abbott lost a whopping 5 points.
This poll was taken before the ad in question. I am truly eager to see what the numbers stand at as of next week!