AUSTIN, Texas — This week, Democrat Wendy Davis’ campaign for governor launched her latest ad, “Justice,” using the image of an empty wheelchair to attack her Republican opponent, Greg Abbott, and was hit with a swift and sharply negative backlash throughout the Texas and national media. The howls of outrage should be a familiar sound for the consultants responsible for creating the ad: they were the same group behind the infamous ad from the 2012 election that blamed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for the cancer death of a woman whose husband had been laid off by Bain Capital.
POLITICO reported on Friday that Shorr Johnson Magnus, the Davis’ campaign’s media consultant, had created the ad to run as a “significant buy running in multiple media markets throughout the state.” Shorr Johnson Magnus had previously made headlines with an ad they created in 2012 for a PAC called “Priorities USA Action” called “Stage.” It featured a man named Joe Soptic, who lost his insurance when his employer, GST Steel, declared bankruptcy, and he was laid off as part of the reorganization process managed by Bain Capital, which had invested in the plant. In the ad, Soptic says that he lost his insurance, and then his wife became ill from cancer. Soptic blames Romney for his wife’s death, saying, “I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned” at the conclusion of the ad.
The Romney campaign strongly objected to the ad, calling it “discredited and dishonest,” pointing out that Romney had left Bain before the 2001 bankrupcy of GST Steel, and Mrs. Soptic had died in 2006, years after the plant closed. Moreover, she had had insurance through her own employer during several periods between the plant closing and her diagnosis. Overall, while the ad may have contributed to the Obama campaign’s efforts to brand Romney as a cold-hearted corporate shark, many felt that it was just not plausible to blame Romney for the cancer death of Mrs. Soptic so many years later, especially when, by her husband’s own admission, she did not seek medical treatment until she had been feeling ill for quite some time.
Like the Romney ad, the claims made in the Davis ad have been criticized as stretching the truth regarding the legal cases cited. The Abbott campaign shared several news articles debunking the claims in the ad, and blogger Patterico posted a legal analysis on Friday of Abbott’s ruling in the case regarding the woman with the prosthetic leg, concluding that Davis had substantially misrepresented the legal issues in the case, and “[u]ltimately, I think Abbott was just doing his job, and that Davis’s ad does not make a fair point.”
The Davis ad and the Priorities USA ad have more in common than the consultants who created them; they share a major financial backer as well. Houston area trial lawyer Steve Mostyn and his wife Amber provided a significant percentage of the funding for the Priorities USA ad, donating an initial $1 million out of the $10 million ad buy, and added several more million to that figure in the final month of the election. Mostyn, the former president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, has been a major donor to Democratic candidates and liberal causes in Texas for years, throwing millions behind opponents to tort reform. Abbott’s conservative rulings when he was on the Texas Supreme Court, and his work as Texas Attorney General to uphold the tort reform laws that Mostyn so vehemently opposes, have put Abbott high on the list of candidates Mostyn desires to see defeated. Mostyn money is once again a significant factor in Texas elections this year, with the Mostyns donating millions of dollars to candidates and through various committees, and Breitbart Texas will continue to follow this story.
One major difference between the Davis ad and the Priorities USA ad, was that Priorities USA’s attack on Romney was mostly condemned on the right, but the criticism of Davis’ ad came from all across the political spectrum. Liberal media outlets like Mother Jones saying the ad was “offensive and nasty and it shouldn’t exist,” and Bob Beckel, the main Democrat representative on Fox News Channel’s program The Five joining in condemning the ad, calling it “the kind of thing that you never, ever do, [to] take advantage of some of your opponents physical or mental…conditions,” predicting that it was “almost certain to backfire in every direction you could possibly imagine.” Multiple political commentators even compared Davis to Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate who became an albatross around the necks of Republican candidates nationwide after his controversial comments about “legitimate rape.”
Harvey Kronberg, of The Quorum Report, was one of Davis’ rare defenders in Texas that is not currently on her payroll, dismissing criticism of the ad as “[t]oday’s manufactured outrage du jour” and mocking the “delicate sensibilities” of those expressing outrage. (One would like to give Kronberg the benefit of the doubt and assume that he does not include Mother Jones reporter Patrick Caldwell, who was in a wheelchair during high school because of a debilitating nerve condition in his leg and strongly opposed the ad, among those with “delicate sensibilities” or “manufactured outrage.”) But even Kronberg admits that the ad is “[a] risky strategy to be sure.”
So far, the Davis campaign is showing no signs of backing down from the ad. The campaign retweeted a link to the YouTube video at 7:30 p.m. Central Time Friday, hours after criticism had been flooding in from across the country, and Davis’s top campaign staffers have been unapologetic in their defense of the ad.
Viewers of the University of Texas Longhorns vs. Oklahoma University Sooners football game Saturday reported to Breitbart Texas that Davis’ ad is running during the game, at least in the Houston metro area. Additionally, Buzzfeed reports that Davis’ campaign sent out multiple emails promoting the ad every few hours Friday and Saturday.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter at @rumpshaker.