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Wendy Davis and the Pete Wilson Factor

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The past couple of weeks have been challenging for Texas State Senator Wendy Davis's campaign to become the next Governor of Texas. Wayne Slater's Dallas Morning News article about Davis's life story, particularly the fact that her children stayed with her husband in Texas while she attended Harvard Law School, has triggered a series of attacks on Davis's character by conservatives, many of which are of a sexist and vulgar nature. As Kirsten Powers pointed out in The Daily Beast:

Since news broke in the Dallas Morning News that the Texas gubernatorial candidate had support from her then-husband while she attended Harvard Law School, conservatives have been apoplectic. The right has been heaping scorn upon Davis because she and her husband decided that their children should stay in Texas with him while she studied in Boston...For crying out loud, she didn't leave her children on the side of the road. She left them to live with their father. It's fair to criticize Davis for her misleading bio that implied she had been a single mother during law school. Instead, a misogynistic mob is determined to punish her for her parenting choices.

Powers may be a Democrat, but she is not a knee-jerk supporter of Davis. In fact, Powers has written sharply critical pieces about Davis in the past. But her point is a straightforward one: Davis is being pilloried for making parental choices that are not unlike those of many other parents who have to travel far from their children to try and create a better life for their families, and many of those criticisms would not be levied against a male candidate. I doubt that one would hear as much criticism of a male candidate who did the same thing as Davis did or who did something like work overseas or on an offshore oil rig for months at a time to provide more upward mobility for his family. In fact, those parental choices might be seen as heroic, particularly by the same conservatives who are vilifying Davis.

Frankly, none of these attacks are any surprise to me. This is the nature of a lot of modern conservative rhetoric these days, as Mike Huckabee recently demonstrated. But I will share a prediction here that I've shared in recent months with others here in Texas.

Texas is still a majority-Republican state, so Davis has always had an uphill battle to fight. She is a good candidate, but the odds are against her. However, those odds aren't going to be enough for many of her conservative opponents and they will go overboard in their nastiness. I've said for a long time that Davis will face a huge amount of misogynistic attacks and that is already coming to pass. For that matter, I've also said her Latino allies, like San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Congressman Joaquin Castro and State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (who is running for Lieutenant Governor), will face ethnically-charged attacks, and all one has to do is follow the Twitter feeds of either of the Castro brothers to see some examples of that. The people who can't contain themselves won't contain themselves.

These attacks will probably will be beneficial to Republicans in the short term, but they won't be beneficial in the long term. The model to look at here is Pete Wilson's campaigns in California in the mid-1990s. Wilson won by demagoguing the issue of illegal immigration and in so doing, alienated an entire generation of Latino voters who have yet to forgive the GOP in California. I predict the attacks on Davis, Van de Putte and the Castro brothers will reach a level of vitriol that will turn off millions of voters in Texas, particularly women and Latinos.

The effects of that may take years to come to full fruition and may not turn Texas blue in 2014, but the sort of scorched earth campaign that has already started will probably do more to help turn Texas blue than any amount of money spent in Texas by the national Democratic party. Davis's opponents can't help themselves. It's just how they are. But the process has already started, and the end in the long run may be one that transforms Texas in a manner that Pete Wilson could tell you all about.