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Wendy Davis Was The Face Of ‘War On Women’ Politics. How’d That Go?

No politician had more media support than Wendy Davis, who just lost the Texas governor race. What does this show us about media handling of “War on Women”?


This was a year when the War on Women messaging — previously employed so successfully by the Democrats — failed to yield the desired results. Most of the discussions about that failure have focused on Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado. Udall’s obsessive focus on the “War on Women” playbook became so annoying that journalists and even his own supporters dubbed him “Mark Uterus.”

But it is absolutely unfair that Udall be tarred with all the failures of the War on Women messaging. No one better encapsulates the Democratic playbook than Wendy Davis, who ran for governor of Texas.

Her campaign was launched in vintage War on Women style. By filibustering a popular late-term abortion ban in Texas, she immediately gained the support of many in the mainstream media. They feted her with free in-kind advertising in the form of puffy profile pieces, cover stories, and other effusive coverage.

Sarah Kliff, who famously dismissed the Kermit Gosnell story as nothing more than “local crime” and therefore unworthy of coverage, covered Davis extensively while at the Washington Post and later when she moved to Vox. For instance, she tweeted this on the night of Davis’ filibuster:

Even on election day, the Washington Post continued its coverage of Davis as Philip Bump, previously receiving attention for not having the slightest clue how babies are made, gushed “*This* is how you go vote for yourself on Election Day.” He wrote an entire story about — and I’m not joking here — what t-shirt Wendy Davis wore to vote.

In between these stories were who knows how many articles and video packages claiming that Texas might turn purple, that Wendy Davis would be a formidable candidate, that the War on Women was a weakness … for Republicans.

Planned Parenthood treated Mark Udall and Wendy Davis as their most important races, knocking on a million doors and making two million phone calls, they claimed, to drive votes to them.

Wendy Davis lost. We’re waiting to hear the final details, but it looks like she lost big. A media less invested in carrying War on Women water might have led fewer cheers for Davis and the country’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood and more thoughtful coverage about the issues of concern to actual Texas voters, never as pleased with late-term abortion rights as the people inhabiting American newsrooms.