Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Than Just A Pair Of Pink Shoes

The articles keep on coming. One after another pointing out what went wrong with the Wendy Davis campaign. Chock-full of advice about how she could have won.

The consensus seems to be that she needed to be more "centrist". Wendy made funding public education the centerpiece of her agenda. Is there a more "centrist" issue than promoting public education? It is such a "centrist" issue that Greg Abbott also ran on promoting public education.

Let's be clear. To have a remote chance at winning, Wendy would have had to dress up in camo, pick up an AR-15 and head to the Texas-Mexico border. Only after apprehending a couple of unauthorized immigrants trying to sneak into the United States could Wendy make the case that she is not a flaming liberal bent on turning Texas into the dreaded California. In other words, Wendy Davis never had a chance.

Nevertheless, there is no question that Wendy's political consultants did not serve her well. The governorship was out of reach but a more effective campaign could have spared her the humiliation she suffered on Election Day and possibly position her for another run. Instead, should Wendy decide to seek another office, she now has the added burden of being the candidate that lost ground for the Democrats in Texas.

From the start, it was obvious that Wendy Davis planned on running primarily on her biography. The compelling story of a teen mom who rose from living in a trailer to running for Governor of Texas. Unfortunately for her, that all fell apart in January when  Dallas Morning News published a story questioning key details of Wendy's biography.  It was a severe blow to the campaign from which it never fully recovered.

It was such an unforced error. Wendy Davis does have a compelling life story. She did come from very humble beginnings and went on to become a successful Harvard educated lawyer and state senator. There was no need to pad the resume. Compounding the problem, the campaign seemed caught by surprise and very slow to respond. It was almost as if no one in the Wendy camp thought that the opposition was going to do research.

Afterwards, the campaign floundered for months searching for a new theme. Over the summer they finally settled on attacking Greg Abbott as an insider working against the interests of average Texans. Running against the GOP insiders has become the Democrats fallback position in Texas. It hasn't delivered victory for 20 years but for some reason the Davis campaign thought that this time would be the charm.

It wasn't the charm. Instead of recycling failed strategies, the Davis campaign should have focused on their candidate's main weakness. The perception that she was a one dimensional candidate. A one trick pony, as Republicans contemptuously referred to her. The reality is that Wendy Davis is a very accomplished woman.  The campaign could have easily added dimension to her candidacy.

To begin with, they could have used her family. During her concession speech, Wendy was flanked by her daughters, siblings and mother. Why weren't any of her family members featured during the campaign? There is a reason candidates feature their families in campaign material. It humanizes them. It helps candidates connect with voters. Wendy has two beautiful daughters. They should have been front and center. At the end of every ad, there should have been a photo of Wendy with her daughters. Use motherhood to connect with women voters.

Instead of abandoning Wendy's biography as a theme, the campaign could have re-introduced it by having her mother talk about the humble beginnings and Wendy's contributions to helping the family. For Pete's sake, voters were treated to months of Greg Abbott's mother-in-law talking about him being a good man and not one ad featuring Wendy's mother talking about her own daughter.

Before running for the state senate, Wendy served on the Fort Worth City Council for nine years. She headed the city's Economic Development Committee and worked closely with the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders. Accusing Democrats of wanting to destroy Texas' business friendly environment is a staple GOP attack. The Democrats had a candidate with the pro-business bona fides to blunt the Republicans and they failed to use it. 

Wendy captured the national attention because of her famous filibuster of a bill designed to regulate abortion clinics out of existence in Texas.  The campaign was absolutely correct in not focusing on abortion. That would have just reinforced the Republican charge that Wendy was a one issue candidate. But they could have used her famous filibuster to introduce the voters to an earlier filibuster Wendy did to fight against cutting education funding. Through the use of images, replace in the voters' mind the association of filibuster-abortion with filibuster-public education.

Finally, Wendy needed to talk about her faith. Perhaps, she could have tied her Christian faith to her drive to fight for the powerless. This is Texas and faith is a way for people to culturally connect. Any candidate that seeks state wide office must give God a nod or not even bother running at all.

It is simply amazing that a campaign that relied on winning women voters completely failed to use perhaps Wendy's greatest asset, her daughters. Equally amazing was the failure to use her accomplishments, pro-business credentials and her record of fighting against cuts in public education. It wasn't that Wendy was not "centrist" enough. What the campaign failed to do is get the message out that there is more to Wendy Davis than a pair of pink shoes.