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With Four Weeks Until Early Voting, Greg Abbott And Wendy Davis Try To Connect

Mark Graham/Cooper Neil
The Texas Tribune
Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis, candidates for governor.

The candidates for governor are back on the campaign trail after mixing it up in their first debate Friday night. On Saturday Democrat Wendy Davis sat for an hour-long interview in Austin. Republican Greg Abbott stayed in the Rio Grande Valley, hoping to attract Latino votes.

Abbott appeared with three Rio Grande Valley mayors who support him and sought to send a message of unity with Hispanics by introducing his wife Cecilia.

Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News
Greg Abbott introduces his wife Cecilia as the woman who will make history as the first Latina first lady of Texas.

“When I put my hand on the Bible and raise my right hand, and take that oath of office to be your next governor, my wife will make Texas history as the first Hispanic first lady of the state of Texas,” he said to a cheering crowd of supporters.

Abbott then laughed at himself as he stumbled over the pronunciation of a slogan in Spanish, Unidos en el Valle, which means united in the (Rio Grande) Valley.

“Sorry, mi Española is-,” he shrugged.

Abbott Courting Latino Voters

The 56-year old Attorney General says his campaign has been reaching out to voters in the Valley for months, and he believes he can become the first statewide Republican to win this part of Texas because of cultural ties and his message of economic opportunity.

“They want the opportunity to create their own businesses. It could be a small tienda that’s 10 feet by 10 foot feet.  They want the opportunity to do that without the government telling them how to run it,” he said.

As Abbott and supporters knocked on doors in South Texas, Wendy Davis was in Austin on a Texas Tribune Festival stage, talking about the differences between herself and Abbott.

Davis Highlights Differences on Instate Tuition, Medicaid Funding  

Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News
Wendy Davis grabs a bullhorn to thank supporters following the Friday night debate.

Abbott wants to reform a law that gives in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who graduate from a Texas high school. Numerous Republicans want to eliminate the instate tuition benefit. Davis says if a bill doing that reached her governor’s desk she would “veto it in a heartbeat.”

“Making an investment in these young people who will contribute to our economy rather than assuring they won’t have an opportunity to succeed in this economy makes no sense,” she told an audience of several hundred.  

Davis also said as governor she’d consider using executive authority to bring $100 billion in federal Medicaid money to Texas. Governor Rick Perry rejected that money which would have required Texas to insure more low income citizens. Abbott, like Perry, opposes Obamacare and expanding Medicaid coverage.

Appealing the School Funding Decision

Davis, 51, who grew up in Fort Worth again talked about restoring billions of dollars in education cuts. During the debate she asked Abbott why, as Attorney General, he is appealing a judge’s decision that declared the Texas school funding system unconstitutional.

“Mr. Abbott these cuts and the cuts you’re defending that have left our classrooms overcrowded that have left our teachers laid off, that’s not conservative, that’s not liberal that’s just dumb,” she stated.

Abbott claimed Senate Bill 899 passed in 2011 prevents him from settling the suit.

“That is a law you voted on and helped pass in in 2011 that removes from the Attorney General the ability to settle lawsuits just like this,” said Abbott.

The Davis campaign argues the law doesn’t prevent Abbott from dropping the lawsuit altogether. That’s a point Davis  plans to zero in on this week as both campaigns try to get Texans’ attention in the four weeks before early voting starts.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.