Flanked by a pair of supporters in wheelchairs, Democrat Wendy Davis defended a controversial attack ad that in recent days has roiled the race for Texas governor. The ad criticizes Davis’s opponent, Republican Greg Abbott, for denying justice to accident victims despite winning millions after he himself was paralyzed.
“In 1984, Greg Abbott sought out and received justice following a horrible injury, rightly so,” Davis, a state senator, said at a Forth Worth, Texas, news conference. "But then he turned around and built his career working to deny the very same justice that he received to his fellow Texans rightly seeking it for themselves."
Abbott, the state’s attorney general, has been in a wheelchair since the age of 26, when he was hit by a tree while jogging in Houston.
The ad, titled "Justice" and released Friday, caused outrage not just in the Abbott camp but among some commentators on both sides. Texas Republicans have demanded that it be taken off the air. Earlier Monday, the Abbott campaign released a video that compiled media condemnations of the ad.
Others, including some conservatives, have defended the ad, noting that Abbott’s campaign has run TV commercials that highlight his disability in an effort to humanize him.
Almost everyone agrees that Abbott’s clear record — as both a judge and Texas attorney general — of restricting access to the courts is a legitimate issue. But the ad struck some as an effort to exploit Abbott’s disability since it opens with a shot of a wheelchair that seems to invoke the attorney general and it tells viewers that Abbott “sued and got millions” without expressing sympathy for his misfortune.
At Monday’s press conference, Davis sought to turn the focus back to the hypocrisy issue.
“Greg Abbott got his justice,” she said. “Why doesn’t he believe that a rape survivor or a person with a disability or a victim paralyzed forever … should get justice too? What makes Greg Abbott think it’s okay to deny them, his fellow Texans, the justice that he rightly went to court to receive?”
Abbott supporters seized on a moment in the press conference when campaign staff moved one of the disabled Davis supporters, Lamar White Jr., across the stage.
"OMG! At Wendy Davis event to defend wheelchair ad, disabled man dragged across stage," Dave Carney, an outside Abbott adviser, tweeted. White told the Houston Chronicle he asked to be moved because he was worried about falling, and called on Carney to apologize.
Since Friday, Davis’ campaign has been sending regular emails to reporters highlighting defenses of the ad. It also has sent two news reports from Texas papers last year that delved into Abbott’s record on tort reform and disability rights issues.
No one knows yet if the ad succeeding politically. But Joel Benenson, a Democratic pollster working with the Davis campaign told the Texas Tribune that he's "confident that the ad is effective and working."
Abbott is the clear favorite in the race, with some recent polls showing him ahead by double digits.