Why Wendy Davis' biographical embellishments won't sink her campaign
A politician exaggerated her biography. In other news, water is wet.
Wendy Davis is not exactly who she said she was. The Texas State Senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who rose to national prominence by mounting a filibuster of a controversial abortion law, embellished some details of her life story, according to a weekend article from the Dallas Morning News.
Davis had cast herself as a single teenage mom who worked multiple jobs to put herself through Harvard Law School. As it turns out, the story was a bit more complicated: She married a lawyer who paid for her time at Harvard, and when they divorced, he gained custody of their kids, including Davis' daughter from a previous marriage.
Davis' critics on the right say the fact that she tweaked her biography to make it more compelling is further evidence she's unfit for higher office. And even more impartial observers think the unforced error could hinder her gubernatorial campaign.
Yet presenting a glossed-over biography is hardly unique to Davis; it's practically a staple of political campaigns.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) overhyped her Native American ancestry; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) falsely suggested he'd served in Vietnam; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) downplayed his Canadian citizenship and pooh-poohed Ivy Leaguers, of which he is one. Even President Obama has admitted to fudging details of his past — a character in one of his books is a composite, not a real person.
Then there are the two Presidents Bush, the Texans from Connecticut. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose American Dream tale about his parents fleeing Cuba is a somewhat fictionalized account of his life story as well.
All of which is to say that a little biographical burnishing is hardly a disqualifying factor in electoral politics, at least when it's largely cosmetic rather than substantive. In Davis' case, the fact that she was divorced at 21 years old, not 19, means she technically wasn't a single "teen" mom struggling to get by, but it doesn't undercut the point of that fictionalized story: She was still a young single mom who overcame a difficult situation.
That's why headlines like, "Report: Wendy Davis' life story more complicated than compelling narrative," are so unsurprising. Should we really be shocked a politician's biography is more detailed than the abbreviated veneer touted on the campaign trail?
Davis herself acknowledged this point to the Morning News, saying, "My language should be tighter," and that she was "learning about using broader, looser language."
Moreover, the story may have little impact on the campaign simply because Davis has very little chance of winning in the first place.
There hasn't been much polling on the race yet, but all of it has shown Davis' opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), way out in front. Even a November poll from the Democratic firm PPP put Abbott up by 15. And though Davis raised a massive $12.2 million in the second half of last year — an enormous total for a Texas Democratic candidate — Abbott raised an equally-impressive $11.5 million which, since he's been campaigning longer than has Davis, gave him a reported $27 million cash on hand.
The people who like Davis won't run away from her campaign just because she tweaked some details of her biography. And the people who already didn't like her will just have more reason to not like her, thinking the flap reaffirms the criticism that she's a media-created politician who lacks substance.
In the end, though, that response won't really move the needle in the gubernatorial contest.