By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The daughters of Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis rallied to her defense against accusations that their mother embellished her biography, saying in open letters released on Tuesday they wanted to "set the record straight."
Davis, a Democrat, is trying to recover from a major setback after the Dallas Morning News earlier this month questioned details about the inspiring life story at the center of her campaign of how she went from teenage mother in a Texas trailer park to Harvard Law School graduate.
"I hate that I feel the need to write this, but I have been reading and hearing so many untrue things about my mom and I want to set the record straight," Dru Davis, 25, said in her letter, which was released to the media.
Up until the report, Davis had been making inroads on Republican favorite Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, raising more money than him in the latter half of 2013 and narrowing the gap in polls in the heavily Republican state.
Her campaign's response could determine if it can make the November race competitive or if Davis, who stepped into the national spotlight last year, will be swept away in a landslide like many Democratic challengers before her, analysts said.
"My mother had me when she was very young, a kid herself. Yes, we lived in a trailer. Does it matter how long? Not to me," Amber Davis, 31, said.
The Dallas Morning News said Davis divorced her first husband when she was 21, not 19 as she had said in her official campaign bio. It also questioned how long Davis lived in the trailer park, saying it was just a few months, though her bio implied it was much longer.
The paper also said her second husband, attorney Jeff Davis, from whom she is now divorced, played a greater role than had been acknowledged by the candidate in raising Davis's children and in financing Davis's education at Texas Christian University and Harvard Law. Dru is the daughter from Davis's first marriage, and Amber is the daughter from her second marriage.
In an extensive interview this month, Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Democrats have not won a statewide race in Texas since 1994. The party is hoping a close election combined with a demographic shift that is slowly adding voters to their ranks will shorten the time when they can be consistently competitive in the Republican stronghold.
Abbott has stayed mostly quiet about the controversy, but analysts said his team has been researching Davis's past and could make some questionable details an issue if the race becomes close.
Davis, 50, gained national standing in 2013 when she donned pink running shoes and staged a dramatic 10-hour filibuster at the Texas statehouse against sweeping abortion restrictions.
The event made her a darling of Texas Democrats who felt the filibuster, seen by millions on TV news and through Internet streaming, combined with her personal story would propel her into one of the most appealing candidates for governor the party has had for years.
(Additional reporting by Marice Richter in Dallas; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)