Did you hear, Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is loose? Loose with facts.
Dallas News has the story:
While her state Senate filibuster last year captured national attention, it is her biography — a divorced teenage mother living in a trailer who earned her way to Harvard and political achievement — that her team is using to attract voters and boost fundraising.
The basic elements of the narrative are true, but the full story of Davis’ life is more complicated, as often happens when public figures aim to define themselves. In the shorthand version that has developed, some facts have been blurred.
Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced. She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.
A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter. He paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School, and kept their two daughters while she was in Boston. When they divorced in 2005, he was granted parental custody, and the girls stayed with him. Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support.
In an extensive interview last week, Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life.
“My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”
All campaigns seek to cast their candidate in the most positive light and their opponent in less flattering terms. Davis is presenting her story on websites, interviews, speeches and campaign videos. Last week, NBC’s Today show became the latest media outlet to showcase the story of Davis’ difficult early years in a flattering piece.
Using her story to inspire new voters, particularly women, youths and minorities, is a key part of the campaign’s strategy to overcome the state’s heavy Republican bent.
But likely Republican nominee Greg Abbott and his allies are expected to focus on different details to tell voters a competing story. Some will question how much of her success was her own doing, and how bad her circumstances were to start.
Davis defended the accuracy of her overall account as a young single mother who escaped poverty, earned an education and built a successful legal and political career through hard work and determination.
“Most people would identify with the fact that we tend to be defined by the struggles we came through than by the successes. And certainly for me that’s true,” she said, sitting in her campaign office in Fort Worth. “When I think about who I am and how it’s reflected in the things I worked on, it comes from that place.”
‘Texas success story’
The candidate’s compelling life story begins with 14-year-old Wendy Russell working to help support her single mother in Tarrant County. While still a teenager, Davis married, had a child and divorced, she has said.
“I had a baby. I got divorced by the time I was 19 years old,” she testified in a recent federal lawsuit over redistricting. “After I got divorced, I lived in a mobile home park in southeast Fort Worth.”
As a working mother raising a daughter, Davis enrolled in Tarrant County Community College.
“With the help of academic scholarships and student loans, Wendy not only became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree but graduated first in her class and was accepted to Harvard Law School,” her website says.
She won a seat on the Fort Worth City Council and later moved to the Texas Senate. Last June, her 11-hour filibuster against abortion regulations made her a champion of women’s health care and propelled her candidacy for governor.
“I’m a Texas success story,” Davis told NBC. “I am the epitome of hard work and optimism.”
There’s no question Davis struggled financially. When her parents separated, her father, Jerry Russell, started a sandwich shop and fledgling dinner theater.
“While he lived that passion, he never made money again and was never able to comply with the terms of my parents’ divorce,” she said. “What it meant for us financially is that things … completely turned upside down, and it was a real struggle. My brothers and I went to work young — and it was out of necessity, not about wanting to have a little bit of spending money.”
She was 17 and still in high school when she moved in with her boyfriend, a construction worker named Frank Underwood. She got pregnant, married and “some time between [age] 19 and 20 was when Frank and I separated,” she said.
Davis remained in the mobile home a few months, then moved in with her mother before getting her own apartment. She got custody of her daughter, Amber, and Underwood was ordered to pay child support.
Under terms of the divorce, he got a boat, the mobile home and the responsibility for the mortgage on it. She got a 3-year-old Pontiac Grand Prix, a 1972 Firebird and a 1967 Chevy pickup. Davis was 21.
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