Texas Democrats have fiercely defended their gubernatorial candidate, Wendy Davis, through a scandal in which the state senator was caught lying about her status as a single mother and about paying for her own education. However, now that Davis is supporting open carry laws, Democrats and gun control groups are shying away.
In an interview with the AP in late January, Davis declared that she would now work to “expand where people may carry handguns.” She also attempted to refurbish her image at an event with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards last week, gingerly holding up a rifle that belonged to her mother, former Texas Governor Ann Richards. Second Amendment rights are not part of her official platform and appear nowhere on her website; voters first received a whiff of this new fascination with open carry last month. As a state senator with an “F” rating from the NRA known for attempting to impose new background checks at gun shows, Wendy Davis’s sudden support for more legal open carry made headlines Thursday as Democrats grew concerned her gun rights stance is identical to Republican opponent Greg Abbott’s.
Speaking to the Texas Tribune, a number of Democratic leaders in the state expressed reservations about Davis’s new stance. Texas Democratic Party leader Gilberto Hinojosa expressed concerns that Davis would lose the support of groups supporting new gun legislation, instead hoping that the party’s “intensity” of support for her would continue based on her stances on other issues more prominent in her campaign, like education. According to the Tribune, his concern is not ill-founded. Texas Gun Sense board member Frances Schenkkan told the publication that she was “surprised” by Davis’s new stance and found it problematic and dangerous. “I don’t think it’s a good signal to our children in this state that people can open carry something that is so dangerous and intimidating to others,” she stated.
While Democrats are noticeably concerned about Davis’s gun rights position, the NRA told the Texas Tribune they have little to worry about, calling the move an “election-year conversion” for a candidate with an F-rating who “lacks credibility” on gun issues.
This is not the first time that Democrats have appeared suspicious of Wendy Davis’s ideological core. Davis, a registered Republican for years before running for public office, only changed parties as she ascended to the Texas State Senate, raising eyebrows about her background. When questioned about her ideology, she considered the questioning a “compliment” and asserted that “I wasn’t driven by that.” Her loyalty to the ideals of the Democratic Party became even more dubious when it came to the fore that she donated to the George W. Bush presidential campaign three days before assuming her first public office.
To the extent that the new open carry support was meant as a way to pivot the conversation away from her biographical falsehoods and towards an issue most Texans agree upon, it has succeeded. Alienating the Democratic Party at this stage in the campaign, however, seems at best unwise. Davis trails Republican opponent Greg Abbott significantly in fundraising; Abbott raised three times the amount of money Davis did this January. While courting independent voters who know her only as the woman who lied about her life story may be an unattainable goal at the moment, she will need the Democratic infrastructure to make the race anything close to competitive. Alienating them while her campaign is sinking in a desperate attempt to convince conservatives she is trustworthy is bad politics, but nothing less than what we have come to expect from her campaign.