Davis touts moderate Republican endorsements in 2nd District congressional race
This story was updated at 2:40 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2018
TOPEKA – Three dozen high-profile moderate Republicans from eastern Kansas announced their endorsement of Democrat Paul Davis in the 2nd District congressional race in Kansas on Monday at the same time a new poll shows the race a virtual dead heat.
At a Statehouse news conference, retiring state Rep. Tom Sloan, of Lawrence, joined with the other Republicans in saying he would cross party lines and vote for Davis in the Nov. 6 general election.
“While we did not always vote the same way, his door and my door were always open to the other,” Sloan said. “We would talk about issues. We would try to find that common or middle ground in order to advance toward objectives that we both agreed were appropriate for our state.”
The group included a number of mostly former office holders, including former Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, of Lawrence, and former Kansas State Board of Education member Val DeFever, of Independence.
A similar group of Republicans last week also endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly over Republican Kris Kobach in the race for governor.
Sloan is stepping down from the Legislature this year after 24 years in office. Davis served in the House during 12 of those years, including six years as House Minority Leader.
Davis, 46, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014 when he lost narrowly to then-incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback, despite having endorsements from many of the same moderate Republicans.
Davis, however, said he sees a number of differences between this year’s campaign and his unsuccessful campaign for governor four years ago.
“The indications that we saw from the primary and what we’re seeing around the country is that we’re going to have a voter turnout that is much more significant than it was in 2014,” Davis said.
The 2nd District race is important to Democrats, who need to gain at least 23 seats in the U.S. House in order to have a majority next year. The seat is currently held by Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Topeka Republican, who is stepping down this year after five terms.
Davis faces Republican Steve Watkins, 41, of Topeka, in the general election. Watkins, a political newcomer in Kansas, is a U.S. Army veteran and a graduate of West Point.
Watkins’ campaign spokesman Bryan Piligra said in an email that he does not think the moderate GOP endorsements of Davis will make a difference in the election.
“Voters who want lower taxes, enhanced border security, and a Speaker of the House who isn’t Nancy Pelosi are flocking to Steve Watkins’ campaign in droves,” Piligra said.
Davis has said repeatedly that if he is elected, he would not support Pelosi, a California Democrat, for leadership in the House.
A New York Times-Siena College poll released over the weekend showed the race a statistical tie, with Davis at 45 percent and Watkins at 44 percent, with a five-point margin of error either way.
That was the first public poll in the race and the authors cautioned that the same sample could show Davis up by as many as six points, or Watkins up by as many as two points, depending on what type of model is used to predict what types of voters will actually turn out on Election Day.
During Monday’s news conference, both Davis and many of the Republicans endorsing him criticized outside super PACs for funneling large amounts of money into the race to fund third-party issue ads criticizing Davis.
Davis, however, is also benefiting from third-party spending by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which recently made a large advertising buy in the 2nd District.
“The difference between me and my opponent is, if I’m elected to Washington, I’m going to work to change the system, a broken system of funding our political campaigns and try to do away with the dark and outside money that is just infiltrating so many campaigns across the country right now,” Davis said.