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Dueling Ads in Governor's Race

UPDATED: A TV ad war is about to begin in the governor's race. State Sen. Wendy Davis is out with a blistering TV attack ad featuring the story of a rape victim and a vote her opponent made as a judge. The ad was released after Greg Abbott announced he was airing the first major statewide TV ad of the fall governor's race.

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Updated, 9:30 p.m.

State Sen. Wendy Davis is out with a blistering TV attack ad in the Texas governor’s race, criticizing a vote Attorney General Greg Abbott made on the state Supreme Court and featuring the story of a woman who was raped in 1993 by a door-to-door salesman. 

Davis announced the airing of the ad, which her campaign called a “significant buy … in multiple media markets,” several hours after Abbott announced the launch of what his campaign called the biggest statewide buy of the race. 

The Davis ad tells the story of a woman who, according to an Associated Press story, was raped in Seguin by a vacuum cleaner salesman. She sued Kirby Co. and the case went to the Supreme Court on appeal.

In a 6-3 vote, the court held the company liable, saying it should have required that a background check be performed on the salesman, who had a previous history of sexual indecency. Abbott, then a Texas Supreme Court justice, wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing that Kirby did not exert control over the independent subcontractors who sold the vacuum cleaners.

In a statement, Abbott campaign spokeswoman Amelia Chasse called the ad "gutter politics" and from a candidate without substance. 

"In the case referenced in Sen. Davis’ despicable ad, Greg Abbott’s decision left intact the liability against the sex offender and his employer," Chasse said. "No amount of desperate distortion attempts or token ad buys by Sen. Davis can change the facts of Greg Abbott’s record of fighting for Texans."

Both campaigns claimed to have been first with the media buy, saying their opponent rushed to air a competing ad.

Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas said Team Abbott was “100 percent reacting to this campaign” by announcing earlier Thursday that it was airing a TV ad. 

“The Abbott campaign is clearly scrambling,” Petkanas said. He said the ad provided “the latest example of how he fights for insiders at the expense of hard-working Texans.”

Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said the Davis campaign was reacting to the Abbott buy.

“They put their ad out at 8 o’clock at night. We put ours out at 3 p.m.,” he said. “The facts are the facts. Why wouldn’t they put it out if they had it earlier?”

Original story:

Attorney General Greg Abbott, sitting on the largest campaign war chest in Texas, has begun to spend some of it on what his campaign is calling the first major statewide TV ad buy in the fall race for governor.

The newly launched TV ad features Abbott's mother-in-law, Mary Lucy Phalen. The campaign cut two versions of the ad, one with her speaking in Spanish, the other in English. Phalen is the child of Mexican immigrants. On Thursday, the campaign said the ad will begin running in major media markets statewide starting Friday.

"For a frank assessment of a person's character, look no further than his mother-in-law," said Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch. "Now, Texans have the opportunity to hear about Greg Abbott's honesty, values and commitment to serving the people of Texas directly from his mother-in-law."

The campaign of Abbott's Democratic opponent, Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, said the Republican attorney general was running the ad to divert attention from recent criticism.

"This is nothing more than an attempt by Greg Abbott to distract from his pattern of siding with Austin insiders and hurting Texans in the process," said Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas. Davis held a press conference Tuesday to press her attacks on Abbott as an "insider" beholden to big donors, a label and description Abbott threw right back at the Fort Worth senator.

In the new ad, Phalen looks directly into the camera and introduces herself as Abbott's mother-in-law, and notes that she also became his godmother when he joined the Catholic church. The Abbott campaign released the Spanish-language version of the ad and scripts for both, but did not immediately provide the English version of the spot.

"He is someone you can trust," she said. "I love having Greg Abbott as my son-in-law. And Texans will love having him as their governor."

It's the second ad Abbott has released in the general election, but the first one ran only on Spanish-language TV. The campaign said this new one will run in both English and Spanish.

In late July, Abbott disclosed that he had piled up $35.6 million in the bank, considered the largest campaign bank account since the state started keeping track of cash-on-hand figures. That means he would have enough money to saturate the airwaves between now and Election Day and still have money left over.  

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Politics 2014 elections Greg Abbott Wendy Davis