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One Question In The Crowded Democratic 3rd District Primary: Who Can Beat Yoder?

The Democrats running against U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder; top row from left to right: Sharice Davids, Mike McCamon and Tom Niermann; bottom row: Jay Sidie, Brent Welder and Sylvia Williams.

If a blue wave sweeps across America and ousts Republicans from control of the U.S. House, Democrats probably must first win the 3rd Congressional District that sits mostly in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties.

In the six-way Democratic primary, one question stands out: Who can beat a possibly vulnerable U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder in November?

“Any Republican in a district that Hillary Clinton won in this environment needs to be watching their back,” said University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller.

Clinton won the moderate-leaning district two years ago, but only by a single point.

Yoder has had a relatively easy time winning in the district. He has never had a close race for Congress. Even in his first GOP primary in 2010, he beat his closest competator by seven points.

Still, Miller said, Yoder has to be worried. He noted that Democrats had big wins in races for governor in Virginia and New Jersey last year and a number of Democratic victories this year in special elections for Congress. 

“We have seen supposedly safe Republican incumbents who out spent their opponents five-to-one, ten-to-one and lose to absolute nobodies,” he said.

The Kansas 3rd is among races politicians and pundits all over the county are watching.

“It’s the type of district Democrats should be winning if they’re getting the majority,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections who also writes for Roll Call and is a CNN analyst.

He has the district leaning in Yoder's favor.

“This is a district that is competitive, but generally votes Republican under normal circumstances,” Gonzales said. “The question is whether these November elections are going to be normal circumstances.” 

A primary in the district hasn’t seen so many Democratic candidates in at least 20 years. 

There’s little policy difference in the Democratic field. All, for example, want more gun control.

Brent Welder, Tom Niermann, Sylvia Williams, Mike McCamon and Jay Sidie all want to revive the federal assault weapons ban. Sharice Davids isn’t calling for that, but she wants tougher standards for carrying concealed weapons.

There are some minor differences in emphasis, but all around progressive issues.

Davids, Welder and Niermann talk about LGBT rights on their websites.

Williams, who was a banker, wants financial institutions to lend more money to community projects.

McCamon, a former information technology executive, wants net neutrality — rules that would make broadband services carry all Internet traffic with the same priority.

Sidie, a bussinessman who lost to Yoder two years ago, advocates for legalizing marijuana.

So, who has the best chance of beating Yoder?

KU’s Miller said the incumbent’s chances might appear strongest against one candidate.

“If you’re Kevin Yoder, you want to run against Brent Welder at this point,” he said. “He probably gives you your easiest path to re-election.”

Welder is probably most left of center. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent and self-described democratic socialist from Vermont, was in town campaigning for him last week.

Yoder has ignored attacks by most of the field, but not Welder. 

Welder has floated to the top of the Democratic field in fundrasing, but not by much.

He has $399,002 on hand, according to the latest FEC campaign finance reports.

Niermann is close behind with $385,248 in the bank. Williams has $232,775 on hand, but most of that is a personal loan. Personal money spends just like contributed money, of course, but contributions can indicate broader support.

That’s why Miller puts Davids as a leading candidate. She got in the race late but has $145,724 on hand and has been running an aggressive flight of TV spots.

McCamon has $140,464 to finish out the primary campaign. Most of that is also from a personal loan.

Sidie has the least in the bank right now, $6,933.

Yoder, meantime, pursues re-election gauging how much space to put between himself and President Donald Trump. 

“You can only run away from Donald Trump so much if you’re a Republican, particularly if you have voted with the president as much as Kevin Yoder has,” Miller said.

In a generally moderate district like the 3rd, it’s a tough needle to thread.

“The congressman needs a combination of voters who like the president and are loyal to the president and voters who don’t like the president,” said Gonzales from Inside Elections.

Yoder does have a primary. Lenexa information technology consultant Trevor Keegan is running but has only $2,500 dollars on hand.

That means all political eyes on Aug. 7 will be on the Democrats.

Correction: The original photo caption for this story used an incorrect first name for Mike McCamon. It has been updated.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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