Davis Pollster: Controversial Wheelchair Ad Working

Screenshot taken from Wendy Davis campaign ad that first aired on Oct. 10, 2014.
Screenshot taken from Wendy Davis campaign ad that first aired on Oct. 10, 2014.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Abbott campaign.

The pollster for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis defended her controversial TV ad Sunday, saying it’s working as intended despite widespread criticism that using the image of an empty wheelchair in an attack ad on a disabled candidate was mean-spirited and unfair.

Davis pollster Joel Benenson, who advised Barack Obama in both of his presidential races, said the ad underscored the theme they’ve been hammering on for months: that Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is an “insider” who sides with the rich and powerful over average Texans.

Asked about the use of the wheelchair in particular, Benenson noted that Abbott himself had “prominently featured himself in the wheelchair in his ads” in the Texas governor’s race.

“This ad is not about Greg Abbott in a wheelchair,” Benenson said. “This ad is about Greg Abbott’s behavior and actions with other victims after he had his opportunity and rightly sought justice and received a substantial amount of money.”


Abbott was injured in a freak accident while jogging in 1984. He was struck by a tree and left paralyzed from the waist down. Abbott later sued the homeowner and the tree company and received a multimillion-dollar settlement.

The ad suggests Abbott is a hypocrite for seeking justice for himself in the court system while using his power as a judge and later attorney general to deny it to others, including a rape victim and a woman whose leg was amputated. 

But it’s sparked blowback across the country, even from many prominent liberals. On ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Democratic strategist and commentator Donna Brazile defended the underlying message in the ad but said, “Look, I’m saying that I would not have used that wheelchair.”

Last week the Abbott campaign called the attack ad a “historic low,” and the attorney general told the San Antonio Express-News, “It's her choice if she wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair. I don't think it's going to sell too well.”

Responding to Benenson's comments late Sunday, Abbott spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the ad had been "eviscerated by both sides of the aisle."

"No amount of desperate spin can rescue Sen. Davis from the rightful criticism she has received over her offensive decision to air this spot," Chasse said.

Benenson said the firestorm surrounding the ad doesn’t hinder the campaign’s direct outreach to voters.

“The ad’s not aimed at Donna Brazile. The ad is aimed at voters in Texas,” he said. “I’m confident that the ad is effective and working and is consistent with the strategy of our ads in this campaign that depicts Greg Abbott as an insider repeatedly siding with insiders and against average Texans.” 


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