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Name Calling Defines Early Days of Texas Governor's Race

Marjorie Kamys Cotera & Bob Daemmrich via Texas Tribune
Sen. Wendy Davis and Attorney General Greg Abbott could be tied to name calling, whether they agree or not.

There’s been just a bit of name calling in the Texas Governor’s race – with much of it coming from conservatives and Greg Abbott supporters  directed at Wendy Davis. But what’s the role of the candidate to respond to those kind of attacks?

Name calling isn't really anything new in political campaigns. Even if the candidates don't necessary approve of the language. So if it's expected, maybe the real question isn't whether or not it should happen in the first place, but how a campaign should respond.

Let's use the 2008 Presidential campaign as an example. Then Sen. Barack Obama took lots of grief on the campaign trail over his foreign sounding name. Which added fuel to the belief that he was not only born in Africa – but was a Muslim. Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain had to confront those notions a few times on the campaign trail, including this encounter with a supporter in October 2008.

"I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's an Arab," a woman from the crowd said. "No ma'am," McCain said while taking the microphone back from her, "he's a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about."

McCain was booed at the same event for telling the crowd they didn't need to be afraid of an Obama Presidency.

Meantime in the Texas governor’s race, both sides have had their share of name-calling. In August, a Greg Abbott supporter Tweeted that Wendy Davis was an "idiot" and that Abbott would demolish her in a gubernatorial race, saying "Retard Barbie to learn life lesson."

Abbott's twitter account responded by saying, Thanks for your support. Later Abbott put out another Tweet saying he thanks supporters, but doesn't endorse offensive language. Asking people to, "stay positive."

Not everyone who backs Abbott took that advice.

"Can y'all imagine what it would be like if Abortion Barbie is the next governor," Denton County GOP Chair Dianne Edmondson said at a January Lt. Governor's forum.

Unlike the McCain incident, Greg Abbott was not there. So we don't know how he would have responded. But that hasn’t stopped the Davis campaign and her surrogates from trying to tie Abbott to any and all disparaging remarks.

Just a few days ago a liberal group called the Lone Star Project released a tape of Abbott that the group says directly ties any name calling back to Abbott. On the tape, recorded at a Republican event in Wimberly on Jan. 21, you can hear Abbott talking about how social media reacted to a Dallas Morning News story that painted Wendy Davis as playing a little loose on some facts about her life– like whether she was divorced or separated from her first husband at age 19.

"If anyone follows Twitter, you've seen an interesting conversation over past 24 hours. We're going to keep that conversation up for nine months," Abbott said.

That’s the entire recording. Not exactly what most people would consider a smoking gun. And from what was released, there’s no evidence that Abbott called Davis a liar, or supported anyone in the room who may have.

So how has Davis responded to similar name-calling from her supporters? We got a chance to see when a recently released undercover video taken by a conservative activist showed some Democratic volunteers talking about Greg Abbott being in a wheelchair.

"First of all, he's not good looking. He doesn't speak very well. He doesn't have a good personality. And he's in a wheelchair," said one Democrat on the tape.

The video was heavily edited, to make similar remarks appear to get support or laughs from other Democrats.  But almost immediately Wendy Davis issued a statement to her supporters and the press, including the FOX news show “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”

"Here's the statement we got during the break from the campaign," Van Susteren said. "The language used in this video about Greg Abbott is abhorrent. Greg Abbott has persevered through great personal challenge to raise a family, have a productive career, and for that he deserves our respect.' That statement from Senator Wendy Davis."

The problem now is will she apologize the next time something like that happens? And will Abbott see the need to offer his own apology the next time? Because there will be a next time. After all, the election is still nine months away. And the internet is just getting warmed up.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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