Did Wendy Davis' 'Wheelchair Ad' Go Too Far

By Daryl Hannah


Political mudslinging is expected in hotly contested elections. But the Texas gubernatorial race involving Texas State Senator and Democratic candidate Wendy Davis and Republican opponent and Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott has some people on both sides of the political aisle cringing and asking if the mudslinging has gone too far.

The ad in question is Davis’ 30-second spot that was released last Friday. It begins with a shot of an empty wheelchair and is followed by a male voiceover telling viewers: “A tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then he’s spent his career working against other victims.” The ad ends with: “Gregg Abbott is not for you.”

The ad references Abbott’s 1984 accident, in which a tree fell on him while he was out jogging, leaving him partially paralyzed. He sued the homeowner responsible, a wealthy divorce lawyer, and thus far has received more than $6 million. He will continue to receive payments for the rest of his life.

The ad, which as of Thursday morning had more than 470,000 views, immediately caught the attention of political pundits and journalists who were among the first to deride Davis for the ad. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake even called it “one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see.”

Over the weekend, Davis’ camp went on the defensive, saying that the point of the ad was to call out Abbott’s hypocrisy by asserting that the attorney general “has built a career kicking the ladder down behind him and denying to others the very same justice that he both deserved and received.”

Davis then held a press conference on Monday, in which she doubled down on the ad and shared the stage with several people with disabilities, including two people in wheelchairs and a young man with cerebral palsy.

“In 1984, Gregg Abbott sought out and received justice following a horrible injuryrightly so,” Davis said. “And I’m glad. He deserved justice for the terrible tragedy that he endured. 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.”

Davis went on to reiterate the point of the adto call out Abbott’s hypocrisyby asserting that the attorney general, even before his accident, had a history of supporting conservative-led efforts to make it harder for medical-malpractice claimants to sue. Abbott also supported a controversial 2003 Texas law that caps noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $250,000.

“We need to call this what it is: hypocrisy,” Davis added. “But there is example after example of it, harming the people that he is supposed to be fighting for.”

Abbott released a statement and his own web ad featuring “universal condemnation” from liberal and conservative media.

“Despite receiving near-universal condemnation from all sides of the political and media spectrum,” the statement read, “Senator Davis continues to defend her desperate and despicable ad. Senator Davis’ decision to double down on her severe error in judgment is shameful and shows that she is unfit to be their governor.”

During an interview with FOX News’ Sean Hannity, Abbott shrugged off Davis’ offensive ad, saying, “If she wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair, that’s her prerogative. As for me, I’m running a different type of campaign. … I will focus on the future of Texas while my opponent continues to attack me.”

Despite Democratic pollster Joel Benenson’s contention that the ad could actually help Davis, it’s obvious that she hopes that the media attention surrounding the ad will translate to votes. She remains double-digit percentage points behind Abbott in the latest polls and has been outspent by her opponent, $30 million to $5.7 million.

It’s also worth noting that no Democrat has occupied the governor’s seat in Texas since 1995.

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