EDINBURG — Using the first gubernatorial debate to go on the attack Friday night, Wendy Davis slammed Republican Greg Abbott on everything from his position on abortion to his opposition to expanding Medicaid in Texas.
And while Davis sought to go on the offensive, Abbott generally let the punches fly without hitting back, portraying himself —as he has since launching his candidacy last year — as a warrior against President Obama and an expansive federal government.
Abbott did seem to catch Davis off guard when he was given the opportunity to pose a direct question to her. He asked her if she regretted voting for Obama.
“Mr. Abbott, what I am working on right now is running for governor of this incredible state and bringing polices forward that benefit this state,” she said. She then pivoted toward a discussion about her up-from-the-bootstraps biography and said she would work for all Texans if elected governor.
There appeared to be no major gaffes or surprising revelations during the one-hour encounter, but there were several good one-liners and plenty of hot exchanges — at least emanating from Davis’ side of the room.
The Fort Worth senator got the first question, about the impact that troops along the border have had on the region’s public image. She wasted little time turning up the heat on Abbott.
“Comments from my opponent calling this area 'third world' are inappropriate,” she said. “And as governor, I will work with this community through our tourism fund to repair the tarnished image that’s occurred as a consequence.”
It was a reference to Abbott’s comments this year when he spoke of corruption in the border counties and said it “resembles third-world-country practices.”
Abbott was asked later if he regretted making that comment, and he said it was not intended to target the region.
“It doesn’t matter if you are in the Rio Grande Valley or in Dallas, Texas,” he said. “We need to have a state that eliminates corruption.”
On the subject of the school finance system, which a judge declared unconstitutional this summer, Abbott said the system’s structure “was based in part on systems that were created in the last century.”
“What I want to do is to reinvent education in schools in this state,” he said, adding that his goal was to make Texas home to the “No. 1 ranked” school system in the country.
Davis noted her fierce opposition to the $5.4 billion in public education cuts that legislators approved in 2011 and said that Abbott, as attorney general, was defending them in court even though they led to overcrowded classrooms and teacher layoffs.
“That’s not liberal. That’s not conservative. It’s just dumb,” she said. “And it’s short-changing our children and selling out their future.”
There was a similar dynamic on the issues of abortion, when Davis went into full attack mode while Abbott calmly laid out his position without striking back at her.
Asked what regulations on abortion she would support, Davis didn’t directly answer the question, saying women should be able to decide if they want to have an abortion — and then she again took aim at Abbott.
“He has campaigned with a known sexual predator who has bragged about having sex with underage girls,” Davis said, referring to Abbott’s appearance with rocker Ted Nugent. She also noted that Abbott opposed abortion even “in cases of brutal rape or incest.”
“Mr. Abbott, that is not protecting Texas women, and on behalf of Texas women I say no thank you,” she said.
One of the more memorable one-liners came on the subject of expanding Medicaid in Texas as part of the health care reforms championed by Obama. Texas Republicans, including Abbott, are opposed to Medicaid expansion even though the state has the highest number of uninsured. They argue Medicaid is a broken system that needs to be fixed first.
Davis said that by not expanding Medicaid, Texas will be giving up federal money to other states — a decision that will send “$100 billion of our tax money to California and New York in the next 10 years,” she said.
“Mr. Abbott is California’s best friend in Texas because he wants to continue sending our tax dollars to them,” she added. “Of course, Mr. Abbott, California already has one governor. They don’t need two.”
On that attack, Abbott did fire back directly at his opponent, saying Davis was lined up with Obama on this one.
“Sen. Davis wants to expand Obamacare in the state of Texas, and that is the last thing that we need, because Obamacare is an abject failure,” he said. “Obamacare and expanded Medicaid is bad for patients, it’s bad for doctors, it is bad for taxpayers.”
At one point the debate seemed to go slightly off the rails when Davis attempted to offer a rebuttal to Abbott when it was her turn to pose a question directly to him — in this case involving school finance.
Moderator Ryan Wolf had to repeatedly tell her to stop talking, saying her rebuttal violated the rules.
But afterward, debate organizers said that Davis should have been afforded the right to a rebuttal and that it was a mistake to cut off what was — unsurprisingly — another slam on Abbott.