AUSTIN, Texas — With Wendy Davis trailing in the polls behind her Republican opponent Greg Abbott, her Democratic supporters have resorted to a desperate, eleventh-hour attack. However it is not the heavily-criticized wheelchair ad; this is a brand new attack, launched on Monday, the first day of early voting. This time, the Democrats’ messaging brings with it an added element of race-baiting, twisting Abbott’s words to insinuate that he is opposed to interracial marriages, ignoring the well-known fact that Abbott’s wife Cecelia is Hispanic.
The issue originated with a San Antonio Express-News article from Sunday, in which Austin Bureau Chief Peggy Fikac describes conversations that Abbott and Davis had with the paper’s editorial board on the issue of gay marriage, and the lawsuits challenging Texas’ law banning it. The editorial board also tried to connect the current litigation over gay marriage to debates over interracial marriage from the last century.
Abbott did not concede the paper’s argument that the two issues were equally situated, and Fikac makes an error that many political commentators have on the issue of gay marriage: conflating the acknowledgement that a law might be constitutionally permissible with being personally or morally supportive of it. For his part, Abbott correctly pointed out that, as the Attorney General, he and the lawyers in his office are the designated counsel to represent the State of Texas in any lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of any laws passed by the Texas Legislature. Moreover, Abbott noted, laws restricting interracial marriage had “already been ruled unconstitutional,” referring to the landmark United States Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia, an opinion that is now almost fifty years old.
“And all I can do is deal with the issues that are before me,” added Abbott. “The job of an attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state Legislature, unless and until a court strikes it down … I can’t go back and answer some hypothetical question like that.”
Abbott also described how the concept of separation of powers serves to limit the discretion of an attorney general. “What kind of state would we live in if the public policies of this state were allowed to be determined by the attorney general?” he asked. “The attorney general would have a super veto over the elected representatives, and that would be a chaotic form of government, contrary to our fundamental constitutional principles. It would be way beyond the separation of powers. It would be a dictatorship…by the attorney general.”
Davis’ campaign has frequently touted her Harvard law degree during the campaign, but they wasted little time in taking Abbott’s benign comments on the constitutional role of an attorney general and accusing Abbott of possibly defending banning interracial marriage. Davis communications director Zac Petkanas tweeted an article from the pro-gay rights website “Towleroad” [Note: website contains some NSFW content]:
Texas AG Greg Abbott Doesn’t Know If He Would’ve Defended Bans on Interracial Marriage 50 Years Ago http://t.co/ykQexLCgjW
— Zac Petkanas (@Zac_Petkanas) October 20, 2014
Another member of Davis’ communications team, Sarah Zukowksi, tweeted the Express-News article and accused Abbott of “refus[ing] to say whether he would defend [the] ban on interracial marriage:”
— Sarah Zukowski (@SarahZuks) October 20, 2014
The Texas Democrats weighed in with an accusatory graphic, “Don’t Get Mad, Vote:”
— Texas Democrats (@TXDemParty) October 20, 2014
Progress Texas quickly followed:
— ProgressTexas (@ProgressTX) October 20, 2014
Wendy Davis’ Twitter account had its own bombs to throw:
Greg Abbott won’t say whether he’d defend an interracial marriage ban–troubling but not surprising from someone who defends a “poll tax.”
— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) October 20, 2014
— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) October 20, 2014
As for Abbott, he and his wife have been married thirty-three years, and he frequently mentions her family with pride on the campaign trail, talking about the many Texas families that include people of Hispanic descent like his does. Abbott’s mother-in-law, Mary Lucy Phalen, appeared in an ad for him, telling how she is not only his mother-in-law by virtue of her daughter’s marriage to him, but also how she became his madrina, or godmother, when he converted to their family’s Catholic faith.
Considering Davis’ poor primary performance in the heavily Hispanic and Catholic border counties — losing half of them to an unknown and unfunded challenger — she desperately needs to perform better among Hispanic voters in order to have any chance at defeating Abbott. These attacks are unlikely to accomplish that, according to former Texas State Representative and Abbott supporter Aaron Peña, who called the attempts to brand Abbott as opposing interracial marriage as “just pathetic.”
This is another Hail Mary in a series of Hail Marys,” Peña said. “They’re desperate, and it’s a sad commentary on where Wendy Davis’ campaign is.”
Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak had even harsher criticism. [Disclosure: Mackowiak is a Breitbart Texas contributor.] “It takes a special kind of stupid for the Davis campaign to charge that a man in an interracial marriage opposes interracial marriage,” he said. “Wendy Davis is beclowning herself. [She’s] at 32% in the most recent public poll, [and] absurd attacks like this are one reason why.”
Early voting runs from Monday, October 20 through Friday, October 31. Election day is November 4th. Voting locations lists are available, as well as more information about Texas’ Voter ID requirements.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.