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Davis, Abbott Expected To Win Texas Gubernatorial Primary


In Texas, voters will decide their top picks for governor in next week's primary. State Senator Wendy Davis is the Democratic hopeful. She's challenging Republican Greg Abbott, who is the state's attorney general. Both are expected to easily win their primaries, but neither candidate has gotten off to a particularly strong start.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn joined us from Dallas to talk about the race. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Let's begin by reminding listeners a little bit about Wendy Davis. She rose to prominence, got lots of publicity nationally after her 11-hour filibuster of one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the nation. That filibuster helped launch her candidacy for governor. But she has had a rough start to her campaign, hasn't she?

GOODWYN: She really has. I mean, Davis has stumbled out of the starting blocks, no question, with the assist with the Dallas Morning News. For those who don't know, let me give a little background about Wendy. She grew up poor, got married and pregnant as a teenager, ended up in a mobile home. But she was always smart, and eventually get turned her life around. She got divorced, went to community college, eventually married a successful Ft. Worth lawyer and went to TCU, and ultimately Harvard Law.

And not surprisingly, her campaign for governor has led with this story, which was great, until a reporter for the Dallas Morning News discovered some discrepancies. For example, although Davis had claimed she'd gotten divorced at age 19, the truth was she only separated then and didn't actually divorce until she was 21. And while she did live in a mobile home, it was really only for a few months.

And while Davis said that she kind of put herself through college and Harvard Law, in fact, her second husband helped. I mean, this was not earthshaking stuff, but the Davis campaign compounded the damage by insisting that this was, like, dirty politics by the Abbott campaign, bringing this up to the Dallas Morning News. And the story stretched on for weeks, so long, that it began raising questions about, you know, Wendy Davis's campaign's competence. And that became a story about Wendy Davis, not rags to success.

MONTAGNE: Of course, she also had raised a lot of money. So, what? Were people starting to say, can she make it work?

GOODWYN: Well, they were wondering, you know, this was really a little pothole in the road. For her to have face-planted so completely right out of the box, Democrats around the country began to get very worried.

MONTAGNE: Now, her Republican opponent, Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general, he seemed to be having smooth sailing, until then he got engulfed in controversy.

GOODWYN: I mean, you couldn't have been a happier candidate than Greg Abbott, watching your opponent self-destruct. And then he started doing it, too, in the form of rock-and-roller Ted Nugent. Abbott began touring Texas with Nugent at his side, and the cow dung hit the fan. I mean, Nugent is an outspoken conservative and gun rights advocate, but he's got a lot of baggage. You know, he has a self-proclaimed fondness with having sex with underage girls, and in a 1977 High Times article, Nugent admitted to successfully dodging the draft by defecating in his pants and taking crystal meth to appear crazy before the draft board.

But the biggest controversy about Nugent was him calling the president a subhuman mongrel. It's a phrase, as CNN's Wolf Blitzer pointed out, the Nazis used to justify their annihilations of the Jews. So, last week, wherever Abbott and Nugent campaigned together, reporters wanted to know if Abbott agreed with Nugent's inflammatory comments. And that literally had Abbott running to the safety of his campaign car at one point.

MONTAGNE: Well, I'm interesting, Wade, but there's still a long way to go before November. So where does this leave the two campaigns?

GOODWYN: Well, I think Wendy Davis can count her lucky stars. I mean, they had a lousy start, like a basketball team turning the ball over on its first five possessions. But instead of capitalizing, the Abbott campaign has itself blundered badly. Now, if the Davis campaign doesn't start hitting on all of their cylinders, none of this Ted Nugent stuff's going to matter one wit. And Abbott's got $30 million, which is almost three times what Wendy Davis has in her coffers. So, even if Davis does manage to find her stride, she's still a big underdog.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Wade Goodwyn, speaking to us from Dallas on the governor's race there in Texas and the upcoming primary. Thank you very much.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.