Topeka ? U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., didn’t know what hit him.
A five-term incumbent, Ryun was soundly defeated Tuesday by Democratic challenger Nancy Boyda, stunning most observers and contributing to a Democratic recapture of the U.S. House.
Ryun easily defeated Boyda when she first challenged him in 2004.
“Winning is a lot more fun,” Boyda told a cheering crowd at the Democrats’ victory party.
Ryun, a conservative Republican and devout Christian, appeared dazed in his concession speech shortly before 11 p.m.
“I still think we have the right values,” he said, shortly before thanking his staff and turning the microphone over to his wife, Ann, who praised God.
“To God be the glory for the great things he has done,” she said, smiling. “We are people of faith.”
Minutes later, Ryun, his family and staff left the stage, declining to meet with reporters.
In 2004, Ryun defeated Boyda by almost 44,000 votes. She won this election by about 7,800 votes with 95 percent of precincts reporting at 12:45 a.m. today, 51 percent to 47 percent.
In her victory speech, Boyda said Congress needs to break the influence of big money, tackle the problems of health care and craft a balanced energy policy.
She credited her victory to a grass-roots campaign and education for voters with lots of information in the form of newspaper inserts.
“Staying low and under the radar was absolutely part of our strategy,” she said. “We’ve worked many, many hours to get this thing done.”
Boyda’s campaign purposefully distanced itself from the national Democratic Party, capitalizing on voter discontent with Congress and the war in Iraq.
“She ran a very different kind of campaign,” said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka. “She took advantage of some things going on nationally. She articulated an almost populist tone that appealed to independent and unaffiliated voters. She even managed to appeal to some of the Libertarian types, the old Ross Perot supporters.
“And, naturally, she had a solid Democrat base as well.”
President Bush campaigned for Ryun on Sunday in Topeka.
“I suspect that only resonated with the hard core,” said Mark Weeks, a history and political science instructor at Allen County Community College in Iola.
“A lot of churches in this area aren’t going to be very happy about this,” Weeks said. “Ryun resonated with people with strong church ties. To them, Boyda’s victory will be a slap in the face by the liberals and academics – a case of not sticking to the agenda we need to stick to.”
Addressing a somber crowd of supporters, Ryun said, “I still believe we have the right values.”
The 2nd District spans 26 eastern Kansas counties, stretching from Nebraska to Oklahoma. The bulk of the district’s voters are in Douglas, Shawnee, Leavenworth and Riley counties.
Leavenworth County is home to Fort Leavenworth; Riley County borders Geary County, which includes Fort Riley.
In 2004, Riley and Leavenworth counties favored Ryun by 8,870 votes. This year, the two counties favored Ryun by less than 2,000 votes.
“More than anything, Nancy Boyda’s victory reflects a dissatisfaction with Congress for what’s seen as being nonresponsive to the nation’s problems: the war in Iraq, energy prices, illegal immigrants,” said Bob Beattie, a political science professor at Washburn University.
“I suspect it’s not so much anti-Jim Ryun,” he said of Boyda’s victory. “It’s more a feeling that America’s problems aren’t being addressed by the incumbents. It’s more anti-status quo.”
Ryun’s loss of support in Leavenworth County surprised State Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth.
“If you’re in the military, you tend to vote Republican,” Ruff said.
Boyda’s victory over a Republican incumbent is not unprecedented in Kansas. Since 1970:
¢ Then-Johnson County District Dist. Atty. Dennis Moore defeated U.S. Rep. Vince Snowbarger, a Republican and former legislator from Olathe, in 1999. Moore is now in his fourth term in Congress.
¢ Dan Glickman, a Wichita Democrat, defeated U.S. Rep. Garner Shriver, R-Wichita, in 1976.
¢ Dr. Bill Roy, a Topeka Democrat, defeated U.S. Rep. Chester Mize, R-Atchison, in 1970.
In Douglas County, Boyda received 9,379 votes to Ryun’s 5,850.
But it was Shawnee County voters who made a big difference in the race.
In Shawnee County in 2004, Ryun bested Boyda by 5,777 votes. This year he lost the county by 7,029 votes, a swing of almost 13,000.