Boil down Chris Cillizza’s Fix piece this morning, and Wendy Davis’ bad week matters because what she really needs to do is run a creditable campaign that helps Democrats become competitive again in Texas.
There’s some truth to that. Democrats haven’t won statewide in Texas in a very long time. The odds of Wendy Davis winning have always been long. Their 2010 governor nominee, Bill White, was about as credible a candidate as they have fielded. The energy executive and former Houston mayor managed to run a mostly not awful campaign, but never really came close to unseating Rick Perry. It didn’t help that, like many Democrats, White had an anti-gun past he had to run away from. White had signed on with Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Bad move. He might as well have tried to ban BBQ and high school football.
Wendy Davis is not Bill White, and the GOP’s likely nominee, Greg Abbott, is not Rick Perry. Both of those are bad things for the Democrats.
White at least did not rise to fame by filibustering to defend late-term abortion and keeping abortion clinics less regulated than most Texans believe they should be. He never really rose to fame at all, but once he was the Democrats’ nominee, he presented a credible alternative. Perry, the Democrat turned Republican that the media and Democrats love to belittle, tore Bill White to shreds and beat him 55% to 42%. Texas roadsides are littered with Democrats who thought little of Perry and tried to beat him.
Perry, for all his policy virtues, has been in office long enough to have built up considerable fatigue. Democrats and the media mock him and a couple of his gaffes make that task easier. Abbott and his GOP primary rival Tom Pauken* are both veterans of Texas politics and are not gaffe-prone. Presuming Abbott prevails in the primary, he brings a strong, conservative record as attorney general and a menacing $27 million campaign war chest to the general election. Abbott will be backed by a GOP that has become an organizational power again under chairman Steve Munisteri (disclosure: I worked at the Texas GOP under its last three chairmen, including Mr. Munisteri). Abbott speaks well in speeches and in interviews and can debate as well as anyone. He is formidable, yet friendly and even inspiring.
Ever since Ann Richards, Texas Democrats have attacked their Republican rivals with a mix of disdain and insults. That hasn’t really worked for them and it won’t work on Abbott at all. Abbott also ticks all the issue boxes for a majority of Texans — pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-border security, pro-Second Amendment, anti-taxes, anti-Washington — while Davis has to convince enough Texans that she isn’t just another creature of the national Democrats. That will be difficult, because that’s exactly what she is. Davis has to create some distance between herself and the Obama-created Battleground Texas group to be viable, while depending on the same group for the bulk of her organizational muscle. That’s no easy task, and so far Davis just doesn’t look like she’s up to it. If she can’t finesse her own campaign, how can she present herself as a plausible governor of the nation’s second most populous state?
Davis will not have the level of money that Abbott will have, she does not have a well-organized state party, and her mouth has become her own worst enemy. Tweeting that Greg Abbott, who is paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair, has not “walked a day in my shoes” is but the latest Davis howler. Whether that line was a sly nod to the pink shoes that made her a media star or not, it was definitely dumb. Saying that Abbott, who spent a year in rehab after the accident that paralyzed him, does not know struggle is just stunningly stupid.
And it wasn’t even the first time Davis or her allies offered up this style of gaffe. Battleground Texas previewed the fail back in October.
Davis simply is not running the kind of campaign that Cillizza says she needs to to help her party.
Back in December, Davis went to New York for a fundraiser — one of her many fundraisers in liberal enclaves outside the state — and called Texas “toxic.” If you want people to vote for you, it’s probably not a good idea to liken them and policies they support to poison.
Davis’ national claim to fame is that abortion filibuster last year. But in a show of breathtaking pandering and dishonesty, she traveled to strongly pro-life Rio Grande Valley back in November and declared that she is “pro-life.” If Wendy Davis is pro-life, then the term has no meaning anymore.
And then Tuesday, after she had a public meltdown on Twitter culminating in that bit about “walking in my shoes,” Davis gave an interview to the AP in which she tried to change the subject. She claimed, implausibly, that she is pro-gun. The fact is, she is not.
Call the state she wants to elect her “toxic.” Shamelessly lie about your position on two huge issues in Texas. This is not a credible campaign that will lead to Democrats becoming more competitive in Texas. It may win her a recurring role on MSNBC, though, which many suspect is her real goal.
Davis has given up a major howler at the rate of about one a month since last fall. This month, she had already blown her big education policy rollout, providing zero numbers to back it up and then saying that she wanted her campaign to take on issues “as a ship takes on water.” Davis evidently hasn’t spent much time in a boat and doesn’t know that when ships take on water, they sink.
Davis has also used this awful week (awful for her; it’s hilarious for those of us covering her) to rip into veteran political reporter Wayne Slater, diss the Austin American-Statesman, which is only the paper that generates the most state politics reporting, and lose Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka. Maybe she can manage to alienate the Texas Tribune while she’s at it. The week is far from over, and national media from the WaPo to Esquire are noticing that Davis may be a one-hit wonder.
In a campaign environment that never favored her, gaffe machine Wendy Davis has managed to devalue a Harvard education. And it’s only Wednesday of her bad week, and it’s only January in the election cycle.
*Pauken dropped out of the GOP primary last month.