Texas voters got their first chance to cast ballots Tuesday for the March 4 primaries, but rabble-rousing rocker Ted Nugent stole the show as early voting began.Nugent, an outspoken gun rights activist, campaigned with Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Tuesday, sparking criticism from Democrats and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who say he disrespects women and others.“We don’t have to question Greg Abbott’s courage, because he invited me here today,” Nugent said during an event in Denton, later adding that a female politician similar to Davis created a “cesspool” under her leadership.After casting her ballot in the Democratic Primary, Davis said Abbott’s decision to include Nugent in get-out-the-vote events shows what kind of man he is.“Ted Nugent has a record of taking an approach to women that’s extremely demeaning, repulsive,” she said. “For Greg Abbott to embrace him, to stand with him, on this important day of voting, demonstrates what his values are. They are not in alignment with everyday Texans.”Davis and Abbott are perceived as the front-runners in the March primaries and are expected to face each other in the Nov. 4 general election battle that will determine Texas’ next governor.They were among the politicians traveling across the state, or casting their own ballots, in an effort to encourage the 13.6 million registered voters in Texas to show up for this year’s primary election.By Tuesday afternoon, more than 3,500 Tarrant County voters had cast ballots — 1,528 Democrats and 3,048 Republicans, Tarrant County election records showed.Contested races are up and down the ballot for both Republicans and Democrats, from U.S. senator and Texas governor to district attorney and justice of the peace.Early voting continues through Feb. 28.‘Expose … weaknesses’Nugent has drawn criticism for his disrespect of women, immigrants and President Barack Obama. He has called some female politicians “fat pigs,” said Obama is a “subhuman mongrel” and proposed treating undocumented immigrants like “indentured servants” who should be paid minimum wage to build a border fence.On Tuesday, he introduced Abbott to the crowd gathered at El Guapo restaurant in Denton, calling him “my blood brother” and a defender of the Constitution.“We all love Greg,” he said. “He has served ‘We the People.’ … He is the epitome of what the forefathers wanted.“As governor of Texas, he will make sure Texas remains the last, best place,” he said, touting Abbott’s defense of the Second Amendment. “I am certain about this.”As for Davis, he said “we had a Wendy Davis in Detroit — her name was Jennifer Granholm,” Michigan’s former governor. “And today, Detroit is an embarrassment. … It is a cesspool.”After taking the stage, Abbott told the crowd he would “stand by the Constitution of the United States of America,” fight back against restrictions from the federal government and preserve the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms.“I didn’t invent the phrase ‘Don’t Mess With Texas,’ but I have applied it more than anyone else in the history of this state,” he said. “I will never stop fighting. That’s why I’m asking the people of Texas to elect me as your next governor.“Texas is exceptional and, as governor, I want to keep it that way.”It wasn’t just Democrats criticizing Abbott. Fellow Republican and gubernatorial candidate Lisa Fritsch also took a few shots at the GOP front-runner.“It is sad, insensitive and arrogant in 2014 for seasoned Christian conservative leadership to not know better than to keep company with a noted misogynist and bigot no matter how fervent his love of guns and the Constitution,” she said. “Greg Abbott is putting this election and the future of the Republican Party at risk.”After Tuesday’s speech, Abbott — who has said he wasn’t aware of Nugent’s past comments — told reporters that Nugent, and his campaign, is calling out Davis for “her flipping and flopping” on Second Amendment gun rights.“We are going to expose Sen. Davis’ weaknesses on the Second Amendment and show that in this area, and in so many other areas, that she represents the liberalism of Barack Obama that is so bad for Texas.”And he said that if there’s a negativity in his being linked to Nugent, there also is one in Davis being linked to President Obama.“I don’t think there’s anybody in the state who is disliked more than Barack Obama,” Abbott said. “If there’s this effect-by-relationship they want to trump up, that’s a game that will be to the detriment of the Davis campaign because of their ties to Barack Obama.”‘Insult to every woman in Texas’Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa was among those to criticize Abbott for including Nugent in his campaign stops.“Texans deserve better than a statewide office holder and candidate running for governor who welcomes Ted Nugent and his repugnant comments,” he said in a statement.Davis said Abbott’s “embrace of Ted Nugent, [and] his ideals, is an insult to every woman in Texas and it should be an insult to every man, every husband, father, brother, son in Texas.“I think the fact that Greg Abbott is embracing those values is repulsive.”She also said Tuesday that she hasn’t changed her position on guns, and that her beliefs remain consistent.She reiterated that she supports open carry and universal background checks for gun owners. “I believe open carry, like concealed carry, should only be granted to people who have gone through the proper background checks and training,” she said.When asked if she has a gun or Concealed Handgun License, Davis said she keeps a small handgun in the nightstand by her bed “for safety” and hopes to get a CHL “at some point when time allows.”She said a key part of protecting Second Amendment rights in Texas is “that we also respect private property rights,” and give business, hospitals and more “the opportunity to say whether it’s appropriate on their property.”Davis showed up at the Charles Griffin SubCourthouse in Fort Worth around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, to vote in the Democratic Primary alongside Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks.After voting, she spoke briefly with reporters, noting that “it’s an incredible privilege and honor to participate in the Democratic process in Texas” and that she was pleased to “have voted for some excellent candidates on the Democratic ticket.”Because of the state’s new Voter ID law, she said she had to sign an affidavit stating that she is the person registered to vote, because her name differs slightly on her driver’s license and her voter registration card.She encouraged voters to cast their ballots early to give them time to remedy any problems that might arise.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley