Wendy Davis May Be Able to Leverage Backlash in Her Favor

When it comes to an exaggerated narrative, Wendy Davis can still recover.

Democratic candidate for Texas governor Wendy Davis takes part in a interview, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Austin, Texas.
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Compelling political narratives get blown up, stretched out, exaggerated and smoothed over for the purposes of stump speeches and elevator pitches. Seldom, do politicians pay the price. It didn't matter that Bill Clinton grew up in Hot Springs, Ark., not Hope. And, experts say it's unlikely Democratic Texas gubernatorial contender Wendy Davis will see her campaign crumble after a Dallas Morning News story revealed she'd embellished details about her own experience as a single mother.

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"These kinds of discrepancies in people's campaign biographies are nothing new. She is not the first nor will she be the last who stylized her biography for the purposes of a campaign," says James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas–Austin.

Yet, the question of how much time we spend delving into the details of our lawmakers' personal lives still lingers. And the larger question remains, do women get more scrutiny than men?

"We still have not gotten over a stereotypical notion that what happens in the home when it comes to woman, is far more important than what happens in the home when it comes to a man," says former Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md., the ambassador in residence at American University.

Victoria Budson says that when it comes to high-profile gubernatorial, Senate and presidential races, women may still face greater bias in the media.

"People need to live and work and educate themselves. It is up to each person and their families to decide what that constellation of care looks like for their children," Budson says. She adds because Davis entered the national stage as a result of a controversial issue like abortion "she is more likely to have conservative critics finding ways to discredit her."

 

Davis has billed herself as a hardworking single mother who pulled herself up by her own bootstraps. Davis has repeatedly told her story that at 19, she was a single mother, divorced, living in a trailer and working overtime to make ends meet. She pushed herself from a humble education to a Harvard Law degree.

It's the story she told as she stood for 11 hours filibustering an abortion bill and one of the anecdotes that surely helped her raise $12 million last quarter.

It turns out the real story is more nuanced.

Danny Hayes, a professor of political science at George Washington University who studies gender and politics, argues Davis's transgression and the attention being paid to it has nothing to do with her gender. "The reaction would not be any different if this were Walter instead of Wendy," says Hayes. "When voters think that candidates are not honest or trustworthy, it raises questions for voters about whether those candidates would be honest or trustworthy public officials regardless of their gender."

[OPINION: Wendy Davis Running for Texas Governor Shows the GOP's Problem With Women]

According to the Dallas Morning News, Davis was separated from her first husband, but did not get divorced until she was 21, not 19. She only lived in the trailer temporarily and she received financial support from her second husband Jeff Davis, a lawyer, to pay for law school.

Davis admitted she spoke in "looser" language when she told her personal story, but argued it remains the "story of millions of Texas women."

"We're not surprised by Greg Abbott's campaign attacks on the personal story of my life as a single mother who worked hard to get ahead," Davis said in a released statement, blaming her Republican opponent for leaking the information to the press. "My story is the story of millions of Texas women who know the strength it takes when you're young, alone and a mother."

The revelations about Davis's past cast her in a new light and have given many of her critics more room to leverage attacks against her candidacy.

"So Abortion Barbie had a Sugar Daddy Ken. No[t] exactly the bio she claimed," tweeted Erick Erickson, a conservative pundit and editor-in-chief of RedState.com.