*Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a statement from Justin Nelson's campaign.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has started airing a statewide TV ad against his Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, as Nelson presses to close the race with an emphasis on the indictment that has dogged the Republican incumbent for most of his first term.
Since last week, Nelson, an Austin lawyer, has been airing a TV commercial highlighting Paxton's 2015 indictment on securities fraud charges, asking, "If Ken Paxton can't follow the law, how can he enforce it?" Nelson has also put up billboards across the state plastered with Paxton's mugshot.
In the new spot from Paxton, a narrator asserts Nelson is "running a negative campaign to hide his extreme liberal agenda," portraying the Democrat as soft on illegal immigration. The half-minute commercial then contrasts Nelson with Paxton, who the narrator says "shut down the world's largest human trafficking marketplace" — a reference to the attorney general's role in shuttering the Dallas-based sex ads website Backpage.com.
The ad was seen airing this morning in major markets throughout the state, including Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
The anti-Nelson ad is notable for a number of reasons. Beyond U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in his blockbuster battle with Democrat Beto O'Rourke, most of Texas' statewide officials have hardly acknowledged their Democratic opponents, let alone run TV ads against them. And Paxton has until now appeared to have kept his TV advertising positive, airing a spot touting his role in the Backpage.com investigation.
Months after taking office three years ago, Paxton was indicted by a Collin County grand jury on the criminal charges, which allege he misled investors in a company years earlier. Paxton pleaded not guilty to the charges and has since been cleared in a similar, civil case at the federal level. But he still awaits trial in the initial case, and it has loomed over his re-election campaign.
Nelson's campaign denounced the attack ad in a statement.
"If you Google 'desperate,' your results will look a lot like this ad," Nelson spokeswoman Margaret Justus said. "When you're indicted for fraud and facing a century behind bars, investigated for bribery and corruption and hiding from voters, what do you do? If you’re Ken Paxton, you lie about your opponent. It's both predictable and pathetic."
(Last year, Kaufman County District Attorney Erleigh Wiley probed whether a gift Paxton had received for his legal defense constituted bribery. Wiley ultimately determined the donation was not bribery and closed the probe without bringing charges.)
Paxton's campaign did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the ad.