Politics: Campaigns

Is Politico telling the full story about Wendy Davis?

BY: Michael Barone January 21, 2014 | 12:00 am
Democratic candidate for Texas governor Wendy Davis takes part in a interview Tuesday in Austin. (AP/Eric Gay)

There has been lots of coverage in Politico on the charges against New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie and members of his staff. About Texas Democratic state Senator and governor candidate Wendy Davis, not so much. In case you missed it, the Dallas Morning News published a story by reporter Wayne Slater on Saturday that pointed out discrepancies between the stories Davis has told about her past and the facts. She got her first divorce, it turns out, not at 19 as she repeatedly said and even testified in federal court, but at 21. She went on to graduate from Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School, but she paid for the latter with help from her second husband. Then, on the day after he paid off her final loan, she walked out on the marriage and agreed that he would get custody of their 14-year-old daughter. My Washington Examiner colleague Ashe Schow linked to the story in a blog post Monday, complete with that information.

Davis gained national fame for her 11-hour filibuster of a bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and imposed more stringent health and safety standards on abortion clinics. For this she was hailed as a heroine by abortion rights proponents across the country — even though some fetuses can survive outside the womb at 20 months and even though most pro-choicers support more stringent health and safety standards on just about every other business. She launched a candidacy for governor and has raised some $11 million — about the same as the favorite, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Davis's candidacy has national implications. Major Democratic fundraisers have put together a drive to make the state Democratic, modeled on a similar drive in Colorado. They hope that an increasing Hispanic population -- it was 38 percent in the 2010 Census -- will move the state in that direction. Making Texas something other than a safe Republican state would be a huge blow to Republicans. In 2012, President Obama won 56 percent or more of the vote in 13 states and D.C. with 179 electoral votes -- only 91 short of the 270 needed to win. Mitt Romney won 56 percent or more in 15 states, but they had only 122 electoral votes -- 148 short of a majority. Texas was one of those states. Subtract its 38 electoral votes from the list and you have only 84 safe Romney electoral votes, 186 short of a majority.

Before Davis's filibuster, there seemed to be zero chance that Democrats would win the governorship in 2014, but her sudden fame and fundraising prowess gave Democrats their best chance since George W. Bush defeated one-term Democratic incumbent Ann Richards in 1994. Now the Dallas Morning News's revelations of Davis's less-than-accurate depiction of her life story make her election look much less likely. And that in turn reduces the chances of success for the “turn Texas blue” movement.

So if there's a legitimate reason to scrutinize Chris Christie's record -- because he might be a successful presidential candidate -- there's also a legitimate reason to scrutinize Wendy Davis'. So what does Politico offer us? Only one story since Slater's Jan. 18 Morning News story, headlined “Wendy Davis hits back at questions about bio,” a story which includes nothing about how she left her second husband the day after he paid off her law school loans and agreed that he have custody of her daughter. Instead it features Davis's pathetic response -- “My language should have been tighter” -- and quotes her prepared statement, “I am proud of where I came from and I am proud of what I've been able to achieve through hard work and perseverance. And I guarantee you that anyone who tries to say otherwise hasn't walked a day in my shoes.” Politico also links to a timeline of Davis's life that leaves out some of the inconvenient facts.

This is a pretty weak offering from a publication that aspires to present a definitive account of American politics. You might get the impression that Politico wants to promote — or rescue — Wendy Davis’s candidacy.

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Michael Barone

Senior Political Analyst


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