Never mind that blowback.
Several days into the media firestorm over the release of an ad that features an empty wheelchair, state Sen. Wendy Davis isn’t pulling back one inch from the harsh attacks on her disabled opponent and what she calls his long history of siding with corporate interests over average Texans.
The Democratic candidate for governor, during and after a meeting with disabled Texans at Guero's Taco Bar in Austin, tore into Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, saying he was a hypocrite for suing to recover damages after his freak 1984 accident only to pull “up the ladder” on others who have tried to do likewise.
“What we know from testing this ad with voters is that it is an incredibly effective ad because it drives home the point, a point that we’ve been making throughout this campaign, that Greg Abbott is in this for himself and for his insider friends,” Davis said.
The Abbott campaign, which seems to be talking about the ad almost as much as Davis is — but for entirely different reasons — wasted no time responding.
“Sen. Davis is showing that if she is going to fail, she will do it in spectacular fashion,” said Abbott spokeswoman Amelia Chasse. “Her reprehensible rhetoric has reached a level of demagoguery that is as desperate as it is disappointing.”
The “wheelchair ad” has generated plenty of criticism in Texas and beyond, including from some Democrats, as commentators say it crossed the line and struck a mean-spirited tone.
It opens with the image of an empty wheelchair and, in recounting the injury that left Abbott paralyzed, it says rather abruptly, “A tree fell on Greg Abbott.”
The 1984 accident occurred while Abbott was jogging in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood. Abbott received a multimillion-dollar settlement after suing the homeowner and his tree company.
In recent days, Davis and her campaign have said Abbott “rightfully” sought monetary damages and called his injury tragic. But those descriptors were missing from the ad itself, making it easier to focus on the tactics of it and not as much on the message it attempts to convey.
If there are any misgivings about the tactics of the ad inside Team Davis, none were on display at Guero's.
Davis confirmed that she previewed the ad before it aired, and said she has no regrets for airing it.
“I saw the ad. I stand by the ad,” she told reporters. “The ad serves a single purpose, and it is to call Greg Abbott out for his hypocrisy.”
Davis highlighted in particular one of Abbott’s votes as a Supreme Court justice, in which he sided with a vacuum cleaner company over a rape victim who was brutally raped by a door-to-door salesman hawking the company's products.
“Abbott ruled that that company owed her no obligation. Put that in strong contradiction to his belief that a homeowner and a tree company owed him an obligation. He rightfully received justice. She deserved to rightfully receive justice,’’ Davis said. “What we were seeking to demonstrate of course was his hypocrisy.”
Before speaking to reporters Wednesday, Davis met with several disabled Texans while TV cameras captured footage. It’s at least the second time in three days that Davis has staged choreographed events with disabled people while defending and explaining her ad.
“As y’all are talking to folks within the community, are you hearing a response that’s supportive of the message that we tried to send in that ad?” Davis said to the group.
Danny Saenz, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, didn't give the candidate the answer she wanted to hear.
“I had a conversation with one of my friends, and unfortunately he said he would probably vote for the other guy,” Saenz said.
“Keep working on him,” Davis told him.
Another man with cerebral palsy, Dave Dauber, who has used a wheelchair all his life, said he welcomed the Davis ad. Dauber co-founded the Gene and Dave Show, a program about people with disabilities that runs on the Austin public access TV channel.
Dauber pointed to a video that aired on the show that also shows an empty wheelchair and criticizes Abbott for arguing that the state, under the concept of sovereign immunity, can’t be sued for violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The video was posted long before Davis’ ad aired.
“My real opinion is they stole it from us,” he said. “We featured an empty wheelchair rolling down a parking garage in our latest anti-Greg Abbott campaign video.”