A week after Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis' gubernatorial campaign trumpeted "record strength" in its first fundraising report, her conservative opponents have launched a series of gendered attacks on the Democrat's personal history.
In response to a Dallas Morning News article on Sunday that called into question a few specific details of Davis' personal life -- including when she became a single mother, how long she lived in a trailer with her daughter and who paid for her law school degree -- conservative pundits were quick to call Davis a liar.
"So Abortion Barbie had a Sugar Daddy Ken," tweeted Fox News pundit Erick Erickson, referring to Davis' famous filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the Texas state Senate last year and to her second husband. "[Not] exactly the bio she claimed."
Radio host Rush Limbaugh called Davis "fake" and a "genuine head case," while the campaign of Davis' Republican opponent, Texas state Attorney General Greg Abbott, warned voters not to "indulge her fanciful narrative."
The discrepancies pointed out by The Dallas Morning News in Davis' tale of past hardships were relatively minor. Davis has said she was a divorced single mother at 19, when she was only separated at 19. Her divorce did not become final until she was 21. She has told stories about the difficulty of living in a trailer with her daughter, but the article noted they lived in that mobile home for just a few months. Davis mentioned in 2012 that her mother had a sixth-grade education; in fact, her mother has a ninth-grade education.
The part of Wendy Davis' story that conservative pundits have really latched onto is her second marriage to attorney Jeff Davis, who helped pay for her law degree. Jeff Davis cashed in his 401(k) and the two of them took out a loan, which Wendy Davis said she took a "vibrant" role in paying back.
Erickson and Limbaugh read that story as Davis' having had a "sugar daddy."
“It seems, to boil it all down, that Wendy Davis would’ve ended up being really poor and destitute were it not for a man,” Limbaugh said on his show Monday.
Abbott's campaign accused Davis of “systematically, intentionally and repeatedly deceiv[ing] Texans for years about her background."
Davis responded to the attacks in a Houston Chronicle interview on Monday. "I came from a place of struggle, and we can parse dates all day long," Davis said. "Unless you've sat in your home with the lights turned off, it's hard to appreciate how demoralizing that can be. And the fact that Greg Abbott is trying to belittle my journey as somehow being insignificant and overblown demonstrates that that's not a challenge that he appreciates or understands."
Abbott's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
But EMILY's List, a progressive women's organization backing Davis' campaign, pointed out that a male candidate doesn't often have to answer specific questions about the date his divorce was finalized, how much his spouse contributed to his law school tuition or the amount of time he technically spent as a single parent. The group said that sexist attacks on Davis' personal life are going to backfire on Abbott's campaign.
"Greg Abbott has absolutely nothing to say to the millions of Texans who have struggled like Wendy did and identify with her powerful story, so he's resorting to these deeply offensive attacks -- guaranteed to alienate women (and men!) whose votes he was counting on," said Jess McIntosh, communications director for EMILY's List. "He's actually going to say that Wendy and her daughter didn't live in a mobile home for long enough to tell that story. Which is, honestly, the most out-of-touch thing I've heard Republicans say this year -- and that is a high bar. Abbott's coming across like the rest of his party -- a bully with nothing to offer but offensive political attacks."