Watkins quiet since winning 2nd District primary, but GOP PACs are spending big
photo by: Contributed and AP photos
TOPEKA – In the six weeks since Republican candidate Steve Watkins won the 2nd District congressional primary, he has not released a single TV ad or issued any public statements to the media. And with only 48 days left before the Nov. 6 election, public records on file with Topeka-area TV stations indicate he hasn’t reserved any air time.
But in a district that is important to both parties in their hopes of winning, or keeping, control of the U.S. House, national Republican groups have been spending heavily on Watkins’ behalf. And the airwaves are about to get even more crowded with GOP-funded ads supporting Watkins and attacking his Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, of Lawrence.
The latest example of that was unleashed Wednesday when a Republican super PAC released a new ad attacking Davis in the 2nd District congressional race over an incident 20 years ago when Davis, a young attorney at the time, was seen in a southeast Kansas strip club when a drug raid took place.
The ad, sponsored by the Congressional Leadership Fund, is just the latest example of GOP super PAC spending in the 2nd District race.
The CLF is a super PAC that receives significant funding from Sheldon Adelson, a prolific Republican donor and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp.
The ad also criticizes Davis for a vote he made while serving in the Kansas Legislature against a bill that would have regulated the location and operation of sexually oriented businesses.
“Paul Davis’s history with strip clubs includes voting to allow strip clubs to open near churches, schools, and daycares,” CLF spokesman Michael Byerly said in a news release.
Byerly is a former spokesman for incumbent 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who is stepping down this year after five terms in office.
Davis’ campaign called the ad a desperation move.
“This is yet another example of Washington special interests scraping the bottom of the barrel to attack a public servant with a strong record of fighting for Kansas’ families,” Davis campaign spokeswoman Kelsi Browning said in an email. “The truth? This was 20 years ago. Davis was 26 years old and a new lawyer who went with his boss to meet an unsavory client of the law firm. It’s our hope Steve Watkins will stop hiding behind attack ads and focus on the issues that every day Kansans face.”
But a spokesman for the Watkins campaign defended the ad.
“While Steve Watkins is aggressively campaigning in every corner of this district and talking about his solutions for working families, Paul Davis is scrambling to explain his hideous behavior,” spokesman Bryan Piligra said in an email.
The strip club incident also came up late in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, when Davis was challenging then-incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback. The story was first circulated to news outlets through emails from the Kansas Republican Party and then was later used as the basis of attack ads.
The incident occurred on Aug. 5, 1998, when Davis, a young attorney who was not yet married at the time, accompanied his boss to a Coffeyville strip club, “Secrets.” The owner of the club was a client of Davis’ boss. Davis was not implicated in or charged with any crime.
At the time the story broke in late September that year, Davis had been leading Brownback in the polls by a narrow margin, and some observers have suggested the ad contributed to his eventual defeat that year.
The 2011 bill referenced in the ad would have prohibited anyone from opening a new sexually oriented business within 1,000 feet of a pre-existing school, church, day care facility, public library, public park, residence or another sexually oriented business.
The bill passed the House, 91-28. Davis voted against it. The bill later died in a Senate committee.
So far, Watkins’ absence from the media stage isn’t concerning GOP officials. Cheryl Reynolds, who chairs the Kansas Republican Party’s 2nd District Committee, said in a phone interview that Watkins has been busy at the grassroots level building support among fellow Republicans in the district.
“From my observation, what I’ve seen is a strong grassroots effort to get out and meet with people and interact in the counties,” Reynolds said.
The Congressional Leadership Fund has invested heavily in the 2nd District race, spending about $100,000 in TV ads in the Topeka market since the start of this month, according to TV stations’ public files.
That includes more than $60,000 on WIBW-TV, the only Topeka-based commercial station available on the Midco cable system in Lawrence.
But the ads are about to get heavier. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP’s chief fundraising committee that supports GOP House candidates, has purchased nearly $214,000 worth of time on WIBW for ads that will start in early October and run through the Nov. 6 election, according to that station’s records.
Records on file with the stations do not list any ad time purchased directly by the Watkins campaign since before the Aug. 7 primary.
The Davis campaign has been buying TV time since mid-August, but so too has the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which bought just over $18,000 worth of time on WIBW for ads to run Sept. 12-24.