Why Wendy Davis’s résumé issues matter

The Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, the near-certain Democratic nominee for governor, had blurred some aspects of her biography as she ramped up her campaign.


Texas Sen. Wendy Davis speaks at an education roundtable meeting in Arlington, Tex., Jan. 14.  (LM Otero/AP)

Writes Wayne Slater:

The basic elements of the narrative are true, but the full story of Davis’ life is more complicated, as often happens when public figures aim to define themselves. In the shorthand version that has developed, some facts have been blurred.....

....In an extensive interview last week, Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life.

'My language should be tighter,' she said. 'I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.'

Davis released a longer statement following the report — in which she hit state Attorney General Greg Abbott, the party's likely GOP nominee, for bringing up the story.  "We're not surprised by Greg Abbott’s campaign attacks on the personal story of my life as a single mother who worked hard to get ahead," the statement read. "But they won't work, because my story is the story of millions of Texas women who know the strength it takes when you're young, alone and a mother.  I’ve always been open about my life not because my story is unique, but because it isn’t."

This all may blow over in short order. But it does pose a potential problem for Davis — especially when you consider that this race may be at least as much about the future as it is about the present.

Here's what we mean: Yes, Davis has a chance to win the governor's race in November. But, no, it isn't a great chance. This is Texas where Democrats haven't won the governorship since 1994 1990 and, to be frank, haven't come close in recent years.  Abbott has been running for governor for roughly the past eight years — as evidenced by his massive $20+ million bank account. Davis understands all those challenges but also smartly grasps that much of politics is about timing; right now she is a national star thanks to her filibuster against a Texas abortion law but if she waits four years to run for something she may well be less of a big deal nationally.

Given all of that, Davis had to run for governor this year — even if she didn't think she could win. We've written that Texas' demographics are changing rapidly — the state is becoming much more Hispanic — but that Democrats will likely have to wait until 2016 or, more likely, 2020, before they can be truly competitive. By running now, Davis effectively reserves her place at — or close — to the front of the line in future statewide races. (This happens all the time in  both parties; Ed Gillespie is running for Senate in Virginia this fall with at least one eye on running well and losing but being first in line for governor in 2017.)

Unless, of course, Davis is seen as running a sub-par candidacy.  And that is where the danger in these résumé questions lies for Davis. If the campaign is dogged by stories about her bio and her star — which is ascendant at the moment — is viewed as tarnished in some real way, then her ability to reserve that place at the front of the line is far less certain. And, remember that both Julian and Joaquin Castro as well as a slew of other ambitious, young Texas Democrats are eyeing Senate race in 2018 and 2020 as well as the governor's race in 2018.

What Davis then needs most of all is not to win — although that would be nice for her and her supporters — but rather to be seen as having run a creditable campaign that continues to elevate her star status. Allegations like these about her résumé, if they persist and/or lead to other problems with the campaign, are perilous to that perception.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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