During the first gubernatorial debate between Democratic Fort Worth State Sen. Wendy Davis and her Republican opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Davis went on the attack. Political experts say Davis’ offensive strategy was anticipated, but not what she needed to gain enough traction.
The Friday debate, hosted by the Rio Grande Valley’s CBS and Telemundo TV-stations, along with the McAllen Monitor, began with many sharp barbs, mostly coming from Davis. Responding to the moderator’s question about her own personal plight with having an abortion and what she sees as fair state regulations, Davis said, “My opponent has shown that he is not favorable even for women to make decisions on their own even in cases of brutal rape and incest.”
Davis continued, “The cuts and the cuts that you are defending that have left our classrooms overcrowded, that have left our teachers laid off, that’s not liberal, that’s not conservative, it’s just dumb.”
Davis asked Abbott to promise the people of Texas that he would back out of a current lawsuit that takes issue with the state's school finance system.
Abbott stuck to his campaign’s talking points for most of the debate, a strategy that University of Texas Political Science Professor Jim Henson says works for him.
“Sticking to the talking points and the coaching that he clearly received, I think had a positive impact on him," Henson says. "In the end Davis was unable to move Abbott out. She also came off as slightly stiff."
Henson says it was Abbott during the Question-Answer phase of the debate that seemed to catch Davis off guard, asking her if she regretted voting for Barack Obama.
Davis replied, "Ah, Mr. Abbott what I'm working on right now is running for governor of this incredible state."
Davis completed her answer during Texas Tribune’s annual TribFest the following day, telling onstage host Evan Smith that she does not regret voting for the president and also answering why she feels her campaign still has a chance.
“I trust our numbers, I trust our message but mostly I trust the voters of this state," Davis said. What I see is an engagement of voters that I’ve never seen in a gubernatorial race before.”
Abbott declined the Texas Tribune's invitation for a one-on-one conversation with the org's Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. Another debate between Abbott and Davis that will be broadcast statewide has been scheduled for September 30th in Dallas, and will be carried live by Texas Public Radio.