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Analysis: Risky Campaign Move by Republican Candidate With Light Competition

Republican Greg Abbott included controversial musician and entertainer Ted Nugent in a couple of campaign stops this week. It could have been scripted by his likely November rival, Wendy Davis.

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Pulling Ted Nugent into an election in which Democrats are trying to peg Republicans for running a “war on women” is a little like asking Tom Tancredo to help with your Hispanic outreach.

Nugent, a musician and entertainer known as the Motor City Madman, appeared at a couple of events this week on behalf of Attorney General Greg Abbott, the overwhelming favorite in a Republican primary race for governor that is otherwise populated by long shots.

Nugent, a member of the National Rifle Association’s board, is popular with gun enthusiasts, but he is a fountain of controversy, once confessing to “an addiction to girls” when asked about relations with under-age girls, and more recently referring to President Obama as a “Communist-raised, Communist-educated, Communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel.”

Abbott doesn’t need to excite the core of the Republican primary — the so-called base voters who turn out every other March, no matter what. Nugent’s drop-ins might have made more sense had Tom Pauken stayed in the race. Pauken, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and an appointee to the Texas Workforce Commission, hoped to win support from conservatives who perceived Abbott as a continuation of Gov. Rick Perry’s politics.

Abbott, in that formulation, would be the establishment’s candidate. Pauken, who dropped out before the filing deadline, would be the populist.

Abbott would probably have beat him too, but he would have had to engage in a conversation on the way. With Pauken to contend with, bringing someone like Nugent onstage might have a more obvious purpose, showing anti-establishment Republicans that one of their heroes was an Abbott guy.

With his best-known primary opponent out of the way, Abbott is ignoring the three who remain, so much so that he released an online ad this week attacking state Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democrat he is expected to face in November.

Davis, once a largely unknown state senator from Fort Worth, caught a bottle rocket to political fame last June after her filibuster of an abortion and women’s health bill. That vaulted her to the top of what had been a meager list of Democratic candidates and did it with a built-in appeal to women. That fits nicely into a Democratic theme of a Republican war on women — an appeal seeking to lure moderate female voters who havebeen supporting conservatives.

The Republicans don’t seem much concerned. In a recent televised debate, the four Republican candidates for lieutenant governor each abandoned what had been a “three exceptions” standard for anti-abortion candidates. Where Republicans have for years said they would allow women to choose to have abortions only in cases involving the life of the woman, rape or incest, the four candidates said they would allow it only in cases involving the woman’s life.

Davis recently said she might favor a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in certain cases. That’s a more nuanced stance than her earlier position and a point in Abbott’s recent commercial. She told The Dallas Morning News that was “the least objectionable” part of the legislation she filibustered and that other provisions were too restrictive.

Still, the issues behind that Democratic theme define the battle for governor. Other issues could emerge. The candidates could make mistakes or stumble over discrepancies in their résumés, as Davis did earlier in the campaign. Abbott’s campaign has tried to fan those flames, but changed the subject this week with the appearances with Nugent.

Davis, in a fundraising email, said Abbott’s “values allow him to embrace an admitted predator who takes advantage of young girls, calls successful women vulgar and disgusting names, and demeans and degrades not just the women of Texas but anyone who disagrees with his narrow-minded, disrespectful point of view.”

Lisa Fritsch, one of those fellow Republican candidates that Abbott is ignoring, said Abbott was putting the party at risk. “It is sad, insensitive and arrogant in 2014 for seasoned Christian conservative leadership to not know better than to keep company with a noted misogynist and bigot, no matter how fervent his love of guns and the Constitution.”

Right now, she appears to be the only Republican who is worried about it.

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Politics 2014 elections Governor's Office Greg Abbott Wendy Davis