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A Lay-Low Strategy May Be Fueling Sharice Davids' Strength In Kansas Race For Congress

Yoder and Davids campaigns
The debate continues between Rep. Kevin Yoder and challenger Sharice Davids over if and when they will debate in the Kansas 3rd District.

In the final month before the November elections, Republicans and some Democrats are asking: where is Sharice Davids?

Davids, a Democratic newcomer, seems to be leading the race against Republican incumbent Congressman Kevin Yoder in the 3rd District of Kansas.

A month out from Election Day, Davids appears to be ahead in the polls. The last public poll by the New York Times had her up by eight points. She is definitely beating Kevin Yoder in fundraising. While detailed Federal Election Campaign reports haven't been posted, both campaigns releasedhow much they raised last quarter. Davids outraised Yoder by more than a million dollars.

The knock on her campaign is that she’s not at many events and not particularly accessible to reporters.

Even Democrats in the district say Davids may be leery of the press, she’s not a natural campaigner and she may be getting bad advice about how to run for Congress in Kansas.

“Her campaign probably believes that they are on a steady path to victory barring some sort of major disruption,” says Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty. He says limiting Davids' public and media appearances is a clear campaign strategy for two reasons.

First, he says good poll numbers can drive almost any candidate underground, relying on TV ads and other paid media. “The other really is the penchant for the candidate to maybe to have some gaffes or some flubs in the past,” he says.

A Davids' gaffe did dominate the early part of the general election campaign.

She suggested on a podcast that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should be scrapped.

Yoder made hay out of that for weeks with TV ads that blanketed broadcast and cable TV.

Davids aired her own ad denying she wants to abolish ICE and walked back the commentin a TV interview.

Now Yoder is criticizing Davids for ducking debates. He calls her a "ghost candidate."

“She’s not here. She’s not present. She’s not asking people for their votes,” Yoder said before a forum hosted by theJohnson County Bar Association last week. Both candidates were invited to the forum, but Davids pulled out the day.

Davids' campaign disagrees with the assessment that she is not making public appearances and sent a list of events she has attended, including coffee with cops in Overland Park, a speech at Kansas City Kansas Community College and a meeting with LGBT youth in Olathe.

Davids' campaign also says she’s talked to reporters from the Kansas City Star, Associated Press and the National Journal. Although it did take three weeks to schedule an interview with KCUR 89.3.

As for debating, Davids says that she’s agreed to a televised debate, hosted by the Kansas City Star and scheduled for the end of October. “We have to do it in a way that the most voters can see and hear from us and that’s why the Kansas City Star debate is televised and it’s going to be able to reach a lot of voters.”

Yoder has not agreed to appear, and the Star has said without both candidates there will be no debate.

Also, remember that Yoder refused to participate in candidate forums over the summer and did no joint appearances two years ago when he ran for re-election.

Bob Beatty from Washburn says Davids’ lay-low strategy could backfire. “It’s a dangerous calculus for a challenger, though, because they don’t have that track record of winning. They don’t have a track record of reading their own polls, and if the polls are wrong, boy, are they going to regret it.”

For now, the Davids' campaign plan seems to be working.

In addition to raising lots of money, the three major political ratings organizations have the race leaning Democratic.

That includesInside Elections run by Nathan Gonzales who says Yoder’s time is running short. “I think it becomes increasingly difficult as an incumbent to improve your numbers significantly in the final weeks of the race because voters are already familiar with you, they’ve made an opinion of you.”

So now Yoder says he is the underdog and claims Davids is running like the election is in the bag, an assertion the Davids' camp calls grandstanding.

But time is running short to change voters' minds. Advance mail voting in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties begins Oct. 17 and in-person advance voting starts Oct. 22 in Johnson County and Oct. 23 in Wyandotte.

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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