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Wendy Davis throws dice in ad suggesting Greg Abbott is soft on rape

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis
Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis
Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images

State Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat whose campaign to become Texas governor has be floundering as of late, decided to throw something of a Hail Mary pass by releasing an ad suggesting that her Republican opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, is soft on rape, according to a Friday story in the Dallas Morning News. The House Chronicle suggested that the ad has some inherent risks that could backfire on the Davis campaign. However, with the RealClearPoliitcs poll average still showing her behind by double digits, she may have no choice.

The ad refers to an incident in 1993 when a woman invited a vacuum cleaner salesman unto her Sequin home for a demonstration. Instead the man brutally raped her while her children slept in the next room. The crime became part of a civil litigation that was heard by the Texas Supreme Court in 1998, when Abbott was a member.

The rapist was a sexual predator who had been hired by an independent contractor of the Kirby Co. which manufactured the vacuum cleaner without having run a background check. The woman wanted to sue Kirby for damages resulting from her rape. The court found in her favor, but Abbott dissented, suggesting that since the hiring was done by the contractor, Kirby itself had no duty to the victim.

The ad, which contains a partial reenactment of the incident, suggested that Abbott “sided with the company” against the victim. Abbott’s campaign pointed out that according to his dissent, the woman would still have had the right to sue the independent contractor. It characterized the ad as “gutter politics.”

Most analysts suggest that Davis is taking a huge risk with running the ad. The idea is the emulate the success Ann Richards had in 1990 in overtaking her opponent, Republican Clayton Williams, by capitalizing on ill-considered remarks he made on the subject of rape. But the suggestion that Abbott may be soft on rape is so over the top, that voters might decide to tune Davis out and not listen to her messaging.

Another possible stumbling block is the fact that the Davis campaign did not consult with the victim or her family before running the ad. Whatever her feelings toward Abbott, the victim might resent having her story dragged out into a political contest. Voters might also be appalled by the idea of a rape survivor being exploited for political reasons, a potential nightmare for the Davis campaign.