AUSTIN (KXAN) — A catchy country song accompanies a new political ad showing the familiar routine of a mother getting her child ready to go back to school, but it concludes with the startling image of the boy holding a “first day of school” sign dressed in body armor. Words then appear on a black screen reading, “Our children are not soldiers. Vote for change on November 8th.”
The ad, which debuted this week, came from the Mothers Against Greg Abbott political action committee. The group formed after Nancy Thompson posted a photo of herself on Aug. 6, 2021 protesting alone at the Texas Capitol with a homemade sign reading “Mothers Against Greg Abbott” which went viral on social media. Her grievance centered at that time on Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates.
She created a private Facebook page with the same name soon thereafter, and it’s now grown to include almost 57,000 members. Thompson, who lives in Austin, created a PAC earlier this year and has since rolled out several political ads targeting issues where the grassroots group feels Abbott is most vulnerable, like school safety, abortion rights and stability of the power grid.
“Our children are not soldiers — they’re not, and we’re taking away their childhood,” Thompson said. “We need to start thinking about this seriously, and it’s no longer okay to be okay with the way things are.”
A day after the back-to-school ad went live, Texans for Greg Abbott, the governor’s reelection campaign, put out its first commercial of the year voiced by his wife. It begins with the smiling couple sitting at a table, as Cecilia Abbott talks about how they met, what it was like raising their daughter and the accident that paralyzed Abbott. She concludes the ad saying, “Hard work, perseverance and family — that’s what defines Greg Abbott and how he governs Texas.”
Emily Sydnor, a political science professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, said both ads take vastly different approaches to emotionally connect with a key demographic: women. She explained the Abbott team is possibly seeking to remind them about who he is after a politically contentious time.
“If you think about a set of maybe moderate Republican women in particular,” Sydnor said, “that are frustrated with the decisions in the wake of the Dobbs court case and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, who are worried about their kids going to Texas public schools in the wake of Uvalde — you want to convince them that he is still a good leader, that he shares their values, that he’s going to protect and serve you.”
The latest polling on the Texas governor’s race from the University of Texas at Tyler and The Dallas Morning News shows an almost evenly divided electorate among female voters. The women who responded to the August poll said 44% of them plan to vote for Abbott, while 42% said they’re going to support his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.
Without knowing what types of pro-Abbott ads will come out next, Sydnor said it makes sense to roll out a more personal, positive one first. That’s because she argues that kind of messaging tends to not have as much of a rallying effect as, say, what Mothers Against Greg Abbott is putting out now.
“The Mothers Against Greg Abbott ad is trying to target different emotions, right?” Sydnor explained. “They don’t want you enthusiastic about Greg Abbott. They want you angry and anxious about the safety of your child, and those are mobilizing emotions in a different way. The anger in particular tends to get people raring to go, excited to get out there and vote [and] to cast their ballot potentially against Abbott.”
She also said voters should start noticing more and more campaign ads and other political activities picking up now.
“We’re seeing the ramp-up of voter registration efforts, discussions around civic holidays and getting people more engaged from that perspective,” Sydnor said, “so I can only imagine that both campaigns are really going to turn up the volume also.”
With 82 days left until Election Day, Nancy Thompson’s Austin home has become campaign headquarters for Mothers Against Greg Abbott. Volunteers regularly stop by now to help her box up yard signs, bumper stickers and pins to send to supporters. Earlier this week, they shipped at least 200 signs in one day.
According to its latest campaign finance report, the Mothers Against Greg Abbott PAC received more than $106,000 in donations between May and June and still has a little more than that ($107,647.84) of cash on hand. Thompson said her group plans to release a new ad every week targeting Abbott on different issues between now and Election Day.
“Women make the world go round in Texas,” Thompson said, “but when you start treating us like second-class citizens, and you don’t take care of our families, and you don’t take care of our health, and you don’t take care of the things that matter the most to us…then we’re just going to come after you, and we’re going to make sure that you’re not elected.”