AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis’ rise from a teenage single mother living in a trailer park to Harvard Law School is a centerpiece of her campaign for Texas governor, but some of the details of her personal story may be fuzzier than first thought.
Davis’ critics said Monday that the small discrepancies suggest her past is not quite as inspirational as she has lead Texans to believe. Davis dismissed the issue as a baseless personal attack.
Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, but Davis became an overnight political star with her filibuster of abortion limits last summer and so far has raised enough money that she could keep the race for governor close.
Davis, now 50, has long said she first took a job at 14 to help support her single mother and three siblings in Fort Worth, Texas. By 19, she was married and divorced with a child of her own and living in a mobile home.
After community college, she graduated from college at Texas Christian University and with honors from Harvard Law School. She later returned to her home state and built a successful legal career before jumping into politics.
But the Dallas Morning News reported Sunday that Davis was 21 — not 19 as stated in her online Texas Senate biography —when her first marriage ended in divorce. Also, Davis and her daughter Amber lived only a few months in her family’s mobile home.
Things got easier financially when she married her second husband, attorney Jeff Davis. His income helped raise Amber and the couple’s daughter together, Dru, as well as pay for her to finish college and attend Harvard. Jeff Davis also kept the couple’s two daughters while their mother was studying in Boston and, when the couple divorced in 2005, he won parental custody and she was ordered to pay child support, according to the newspaper.
“My language should be tighter,” she told the Morning News. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”
In a statement released to the media Monday, Davis said that “the truth is that at age 19, I was a teenage mother living alone with my daughter in a trailer and struggling to keep us afloat on my way to a divorce.” She also clarified that she didn’t officially file for divorce until age 20 and that it wasn’t finalized until the following year.
Davis didn’t address how long she and Amber lived in a trailer. But Davis’ statement did say her daughters lived with her in Boston during her first year at Harvard and that she split time between Massachusetts and Texas to see them after that. It noted that Jeff Davis “helped her fulfill her dream of attending Harvard by cashing in a 401(k)” retirement account but added that the couple took out loans to cover the costs.
Davis blamed Abbott, who Texas’ current attorney general, for raising questions about her past.
“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,” she said. “But they won’t work, because my story is the story of millions of Texas women who know the strength it takes when you’re young, alone and a mother.”
Abbott campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch countered in his own statement Monday that Davis had “systematically, intentionally and repeatedly deceived Texans for years about her background, yet she expects voters to indulge her fanciful narrative.”
Meanwhile, another potential question about Davis’ past comes from the Facebook page of her mother, Ginger Cornstubble, which references attending Muleshoe High School in West Texas. That contradicts a 2012 suggestion by Davis that her mother had just a sixth grade education.
But in her statement, Davis said her mother “had attended school only into the ninth grade.”
Davis announced last week that she received $12.2 million through the end of 2013 and has $9.5 million in cash-on-hand. Abbott raised $11.5 million to end last year and reported a war chest of $27 million.
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