AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A new television ad by Democrat Wendy Davis goes into territory she hadn't touched until now: Republican Greg Abbott's use of a wheelchair.
A 30-second ad released Friday and titled "Justice" notes the Texas Attorney General recovered millions in a lawsuit after he was injured by a falling tree in 1984, and accuses him of not siding with victims like himself in Texas courts.
It drew a swift rebuke from national conservative groups and the Abbott campaign, which called it "disgusting" and "desperate."
"It's her choice if she wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair," Abbott said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News editorial board after the ad's release. "I don't think it's going to sell too well."
Abbott lost the use of his legs after his spine was crushed by the falling oak tree. The wheelchair hasn't held him back in his legal or political careers that saw him elected to the state Supreme Court and as attorney general in 2002.
Davis' ad is the first by an Abbott opponent to make such an overt issue of his wheelchair. And it comes with little time left for Davis to close the gap on Abbott, who began the race as the favorite and still maintains sizable leads in opinion polls and campaign bank accounts.
No Democrat has won a statewide election in Texas since 1994. The Davis campaign would not say how much it spent on the ad or how long it will run, but said it would run in major metro areas starting Saturday.
Abbott's own ads have drawn attention to his disability, most notably in spots in which he talks about his recovery and uses the chair to roll past cars stuck in bad traffic. He often mentions it in speeches, and has even been known to joke about it.
"Some politicians talk about having a spine of steel. I actually have one." Abbott said when he launched his campaign in 2013.
Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas defended the ad as a fair critique of Abbott as a hypocrite when it comes to his personal life and public policy.
Abbott "rightly sought justice after a horrible tragedy," Petkanas said.
But the ad also "raises some very serious questions about Greg Abbott and whether (voters) want someone in the governor's office who would seek justice and then spend their career denying justice to others," Petkanas said.
The Davis ad notes that in one case, Abbott argued that an amputee suing for employment discrimination was not disabled because she had a prosthetic limb. It also cites two other cases that have already been the subject of previous Davis campaign spots.
"Greg Abbott. He's not for you," a narrator says.
"It is challenging to find language strong enough to condemn Sen. Davis' disgusting television ad," Abbott campaign spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said. "Sen. Davis' ad shows a disturbing lack of judgment from a desperate politician, and completely disqualifies her from seeking higher office in Texas."
National conservative pounced on the Davis campaign.
"It's gutter politics at its worst," said FreedomWorks for America President Matt Kibbe.