Wendy Davis was a Democratic state senator who was little known beyond Texas when she burst onto the national political scene in the summer of 2013, staging a one-woman filibuster to stop passage of a tough anti-abortion law.
Within hours, the pink athletic shoes she wore had become internationally iconic as accounts of her marathon effort were carried in real time by social media around the world. Celebrities — actors Mia Farrow and Henry Winkler, comic Ricky Gervais — were among those weighing in with laudatory encouragement on Twitter.
Even President Obama chimed in his support.
But on Friday, when Davis again became a trending — or leading — topic on Twitter, she was the subject of widespread condemnation, for a TV advertisement targeting her GOP opponent in an uphill fight for Texas governor.
The 30-second TV spot cited the accident that left her opponent, Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, partially paralyzed and suggested he had profited from his misfortune while denying other victims the same remedy.
“A tree fell on Greg Abbott,” the ad’s narrator states, referring to the 1984 incident, which occurred when Abbott was jogging during a storm. “He sued and got millions. Since then, he’s spent his career working against other victims.”
The advertisement cited three cases in which Abbott, as attorney general or a member of the state Supreme Court, opposed damages sought by individuals who suffered grievous harm.
“Greg Abbott,” the spot concludes. “He’s not for you.”
Abbott, who enjoys a substantial lead in both fundraising and support in opinion polls, reacted swiftly.
“It’s offensive… It shows the tenor of the campaign,” he told the San Antonino Express-News. “If you look at my ads, I focused on what I’m going to be doing as governor, and my opponent spends all of the time in her ads attacking me.”
“It’s her choice if she wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair,” Abbott added. “I don’t think it’s going to sell too well.”
Indeed, many political analysts called the TV spot a monumental blunder, one of several bumps that have plagued Davis’ campaign since the Fort Worth lawmaker announced her gubernatorial candidacy last October. (The abortion law she sought to block was eventually signed into law but portions have been delayed by the court.)
Within hours of the ad’s release, Republican candidates and their allies were calling on Democrats across the country to denounce the spot.
A spokesman for Davis’ campaign defended the advertisement.
“What this ad highlights is that Greg Abbott sought justice and received it for himself after a horrible accident by suing the homeowner and the tree company. Rightly so,” said Zac Petkanas, the Davis spokesman. “But then he built a career by denying that very same justice to victims and hard-working Texans across the state.”
“His record of denying justice that he very rightly received is not only something that Texans deserve to know,” Petkanas said, “it something they have a right to know.”
The spot was released Friday on YouTube. It was set for broadcast starting Saturday morning in selected markets throughout the state.