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First ad from Wendy Davis goes on attack in Texas governor’s race

Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis spoke to supporters about her campaign at the Liebbe Firm in Tyler, Tex., early last month. (AP Photo/The Tyler Morning Telegraph, Victor Texcucano)

I had hoped that Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor in Texas, could rise above negative politics.

Idealist that I am, I’ve believed that more and more women entering races could bring the focus back on the issues where it belongs rather than relying on character assassination and fear-mongering ads.

But “A Texas Story, the first television commercial of the Davis campaign, hit the airwaves Friday. The 60-second spot, run in English and Spanish in multiple markets, is disturbing, complete with ominous music and a foreboding voiceover that begins by describing  March 26, 1993, as “a pleasant spring day.” You know something terrible is about to happen.

And it does. “For one woman, it quickly became a nightmare.”  She let a Kirby Vacuum salesman into her home to demonstrate the household appliance. Then he “brutally raped” her while her children slept in the next room.

In her first campaign ad, gubernatorial candidate Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Tex.) attacks her opponent Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-Tex.) for his decision to side with a corporation and not the victim in a rape dispute. (YouTube/Wendy Davis)

If you’re wondering what this has to do with winning the governorship of Texas, here it is: The salesman, Mickey Carter, was on probation for a sexual offense,  yet the Kirby Vacuum distributor who had hired him failed to run any kind of routine background check or to contact his references, who knew the man’s history. His employment records even included Carter’s admission that he had a problem and needed help.

The victim and her husband went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court to fight for the right to sue the Kirby Co. for this failure. The Kirby Co. had countered that its liability was limited to hiring competent independent contractors. Those contractors are the ones who hire the local salespeople. But it was the opinion of the state Supreme Court that salespeople “gain access to the home by virtue of the Kirby name.”

The couple won in 1998 when the state Supreme Court upheld $160,000 in actual damages but threw out an $800,000 punitive damages award. One of the three dissenting justices was Greg Abbott, Davis’s Republican opponent in the Texas gubernatorial race.

Abbott “sided with the company against the victim,” says the narrator in the television commercial, “saying the company had no responsibility.”

On an emotional level, the ad is quite effective, evoking a strong gut reaction against Abbott’s decision: How dare he choose a company’s interests over the rights of a rape victim.

But such a campaign doesn’t seem in keeping with the Wendy Davis in red running shoes who filibustered her way after 13 hours to national publicity and an image as an up-and-coming Democratic star. She made us believe she had guts and grit and determination — and that she was better than the run-of-the-mill politician.

Her star has faded in the year since then, with details emerging about her claims of teenage motherhood and living in a trailer park before eventually graduating from Harvard Law School. The truth was more complicated, although most of what she said is true, and her now-adult daughters have come to her support.

So yes, it’s disappointing to see Davis go on the attack instead of focusing on what she believes she can do for the women and men of the state of Texas. Her Web site details her plans for improving education, building a strong economy, insisting on government accountability and supporting veterans.

Let’s learn more about these issues in the next campaign ad. Maybe she ought to bring out the red running shoes again.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

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