Kansas Voters Guide For The Midterm 2018 Election
Election Day will be here before you know it. It’s like finals week in your civic life.
So when Tuesday, Nov. 6, arrives, you’ll be ready, right? Because you’ve been cramming by reading up on all the candidates, watching every debate, scouring candidate websites for position papers, of course.
But maybe you know someone who hasn’t hit the books so hard. We’ve got them covered here with a quick cheat sheet that sorts out the players and the contests that could decide whether conservatives prevail in Kansas or lose turf to Democrats and moderates.
The race is a battle for the heart, and the political future, of Kansas. Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach represents the state at its most adamantly conservative. If he’s got a criticism of hard-right Sam Brownback — the two-term governor who left for a job in the Trump administration earlier this year amid cratering poll numbers in Kansas — it’s that his cut-taxes-and-services approach was too mild.
Kobach offers a more populist approach, a promise to continue his tough line on immigration and voting rules in what he calls “full-throttle” conservatism.
Democrat Laura Kelly, a party leader in the state Senate, would mark a decided shift leftward. She played a part in reversing the Brownback tax cuts and represents a greater willingness to tax Kansans to pay for school spending and various state services.
She’s managed to rally a number of Republicans to her side — notably a former U.S. senator and some former governors.
Greg Orman, Kansas City-area businessman running as an independent, has yet to gain momentum. He scores, at best, 10 percentage points in most polls.
Libertarian Jeff Caldwell and independent Rick Kloos each pull a fraction of what Orman gets.
State senators aren’t up for election this year. But every seat in the Kansas House is on the ballot.
The House will almost certainly stay in Republican control. But the particular mix of the chamber still remains in doubt. How many conservatives Republicans hold on against Democrats or how many moderate Republicans, or even Democrats, win will determine the willingness of the Legislature to steer further right with Kobach or reverse Brownback policies with Kelly (or, theoretically, Orman).
3rd Congressional District
Incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder is running for re-election and, if polls are to be trusted, is in trouble. He’s campaigning as a moderate, although Democrats portray him as a conservative out of step with the suburban area. Immigration’s become an issue partly because he’s waffled on various votes in recent months.
Democrat Sharice Davids is making her first run for office. She’s an attorney and was a White House fellow during the Obama years. Immigration has also popped up in her campaign in the wake of uneven statements about whether the federal government should continue to fund U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Outside groups have spent heavily in the campaign, notably abortion rights group EMILY’s List backing Davids.
2nd Congressional District
In an area that covers the eastern third of Kansas — minus Johnson and Wyandotte counties — U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins held what had been a safe seat for Republicans. Then she decided not to run for re-election this year. That’s made all the difference.
Paul Davis, a former leader in the Kansas House, faced no opposition for the Democratic nomination. He made a respectable, if ultimately doomed, run for governor four years ago and won that contest within the 2nd District.
Baggage that haunted him in that race shows up in campaign commercials this year. In the late 1990s, he was a single, young adult attorney working at a law firm that represented a strip club. He was present, and in a secluded area with a dancer, when cops raided the place for drugs. He wasn’t arrested or charged with a crime.
His politics are typical of a Kansas Democrat, falling probably toward the center of Congress but well to the left of Jenkins or his opponent, whom he accuses of posing a threat to Medicare and Social Security.
Republican Steve Watkins was a political newcomer when he jumped into the race’s crowded primary. Buoyed by heavy spending from his father, he won the nomination. He’s a West Point graduate and an Army combat veteran. But claims he’s made about his life — his role in building a business, in providing relief to earthquake victims in Nepal — have been picked apart by news organizations.
Polls suggest the race is a toss-up, and outsider players have spent heavily, particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan’s super PAC for Watkins and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for Davis. If Democrats hope to take over the U.S. House, they’ll need wins in races like this one.
4th Congressional District
The House race anchored in Wichita cranks up a rematch from a special election last year to replace Mike Pompeo, who left to work as CIA director and then moved on to become President Donald Trump’s secretary of state.
Ron Estes is the incumbent Republican who beat Democrat James Thompson last year. Now the two offer a sharp divide to represent what has become a relatively reliable seat for the GOP.
Estes was treasurer of Sedgwick County and then the Kansas Treasurer. He’s a traditional conservative: Opposes abortion rights, pushes for smaller government and lower taxes, more defense spending.
Thompson is a civil rights attorney who comes from the fledgling Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, willing to raise taxes to pay for health care and anti-poverty programs. But he’s also an Army veteran who fell to the right of his primary opponent on gun control even though he supports a mandatory safety class for first-time gun buyers.
1st Congressional District
Alan LaPolice keeps running for this job. He tried as a Republican in 2014 and lost, then as an independent in 2016 and lost again. Now he’s the Democratic Party’s nominee hoping to beat the Republican incumbent Roger Marshall in the most predominantly Republican district in Kansas.
LaPolice contends that he’d bring a less divisive, more non-partisan approach to legislating in Washington, and that he’s as conservative as the district.
Marshall is heavily favored in the race, partly thanks to his seat on the House Agriculture Committee. This spot on the panel figures prominently in the farm country that makes up the sprawling western Kansas district.
Secretary of State
Over the past eight years, a once quiet workhorse office became a national platform for the state’s second-highest-profile public figure. Now Kris Kobach is walking away from the job to pursue his run for governor.
Political scientists say it’s no coincidence that the candidates vying to take over are promising to just get the job done — and well. But the Democrat and Republican are plenty different in other ways.
Olathe Republican Scott Schwab is a conservative legislative leader in line with Kobach politically. He’s campaigning on a message of non-partisanship and service to the county clerks who do the lion’s share of election work.
Brian McClendon is a former vice president of Google. The Lawrence Democrat sees a chance to help state government get technology right. He wants to boost low voter participation, too, by making polling locations and other aspects of the experience more convenient.
The office regulates and reviews insurance companies, licenses insurance agents and polices the insurance marketplace.
Republican Vicki Schmidt is a moderate state senator from Topeka who chairs several committees, including Public Health and Welfare and the Child Welfare System Task Force. She won the primary despite opposition from anti-abortion forces who felt she wasn’t strong enough on the issue.
Schmidt has campaigned on 40 years of health care experience as a pharmacist and her work to expand Medicaid. She’s also talked about luring more insurance companies to the state.
The Democrat in the race, Nathaniel McLaughlin, is a former health care services executive. He also supports Medicaid expansion.
Incumbent Attorney General Derek Schmidt was elected to the job in 2010. His time is office has been marked by defending the state in lawsuits taken to the Kansas Supreme Court over whether lawmakers spend enough on schools. He’s repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment that would shut out the court and let legislators make the ultimate call on education funding.
The race is all but a foregone conclusion. The Democrat in the race, Lawrence attorney Sarah Swain, lost her own party’s support over a poster in her office that some people interpreted as hostile to law enforcement.
Republican incumbent Jake LaTurner is a former aide to retiring U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins. He took over as treasurer last year after Ron Estes left the office to serve in Congress. LaTurner previously was a state senator from southeast Kansas.
Democrat Marci Francisco is a state senator. She’s been in the Legislature since 2005, representing a district that covers part of Lawrence and areas north of the college town. She’s a former mayor of Lawrence.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen and Madeline Fox contributed to this post.
Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.
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