Sobering numbers about whether Lawrence will ever fit into the 1st Congressional District; a look at other election trends
photo by: Kansas Secretary of State
Lawrence got its welcome into the Big 1st Congressional District on Tuesday.
Consider these numbers: 1st District Democratic candidate Jimmy Beard won Douglas County by 17,125 votes, receiving 75% of the vote in the largest county in the sprawling 1st District. Yet, Beard came nowhere close to winning the overall 1st District. He lost to incumbent Republican Tracey Mann by 83,782 votes.
To put it another way, every single voter in Douglas County could have voted for Beard, and he still would have lost by more than 75,000 votes.
That pretty much sums up Lawrence’s life in the 1st District, which stretches all the way to the Kansas-Colorado border and largely consists of small, agricultural, conservative communities. If you recall, Lawrence got placed — kicking and screaming — in the district as part of the once-per-decade process of redistricting, which was controlled by Republicans in Kansas.
If you ever find yourself in a room of elephants — the mascot of the Republican Party — that’s probably a clue you’ve stumbled into a 1st District gathering. All those elephants likely would have one question: Who’s the jackass in the corner?
Answer: That’s Lawrence. (Before you comment on my language, remember that the mascot of the Democratic Party is a donkey, a.k.a. a jackass.)
This map above shows Lawrence in our corner. Blue represents the areas where the Democrat Beard won. Red shows the area where the Republican Mann won. If your hope is for Democrats to have more influence in the 1st District in the future, it is hard to find much hope in this map.
After Lawrence, the county that came closest to voting Democratic was Riley County, home to Manhattan. Mann won there by about 1,000 votes out of about 17,000 votes cast. That’s the problem there. The number of votes is not large enough to make up the needed ground. Even if Riley County mirrored Lawrence and voted 75% for the Democrat, it hardly would make a dent in the results. Even with a Lawrence-Manhattan voting bloc, Mann still would have won by more than 75,000 votes.
Of course, candidates do matter, and Beard had little money and even less name recognition going into this race. A more established Democratic candidate likely would have done better, but these numbers are a sobering reminder that western Kansas may be flat in a lot of ways, but represents one giant hill for Democrats to climb.
If you remember, not all of Douglas County is in the 1st District. It really is just Lawrence that got moved to the western Kansas district. The rest of the county remained in the Second Congressional District, which was won by Republican incumbent Jake LaTurner.
A funny thing happened on Tuesday: LaTurner may have come to like Douglas County much better now that it doesn’t include Lawrence, for his purposes. LaTurner, who is on the conservative side of the political spectrum, won in Douglas County. LaTurner won 52.5% of the vote, besting Democratic candidate Patrick Schmidt.
That result may be worth noting. It might be a good reminder of how different Douglas County looks politically once you get outside of Lawrence.
I wonder how much Douglas County commissioners — three Democrats, with two of the three living in Lawrence — will take note of that. The big local election news on Tuesday was the voters easily approved a plan to expand the Douglas County commission from three seats to five.
County commissioners will be responsible for approving the boundaries of new districts. LaTurner’s results show you conceivably could draw some districts that would give Republicans a fighting chance in county politics. It will be interesting to watch how much party affiliation is taken into account — i.e. how well have Republicans done in past elections — when the lines are getting drawn. Voters had to make their decision on whether to expand the commission without seeing any proposals for new districts. What will be the reaction from the rural residents who pushed this idea, if the result is five districts that give Democrats an advantage?
Gov. Laura Kelly is example No. 1 that there are ways to win an election, even if your party doesn’t have the most members. Republicans far outnumber Democrats in Kansas, but Kelly won re-election nonetheless.
Her path to victory is worth looking at. Kelly won just eight of Kansas’ 105 counties. It is similar to the path we’ve seen Democrats often take in presidential politics. If you can strategically place your blue dots in population centers, you can afford to lose large swaths of geographic territory.
The eight counties that Kelly won are among the largest in population: Johnson, Wyandotte, Douglas, Shawnee, Riley, Geary, Lyon and Sedgwick. Republican Derek Schmidt won every other county in the state, shown in this map.
What will be interesting to watch is if a Democratic corridor is developing in the state for future elections. Other results produced a mixed bag on that front. Democratic attorney general candidate Chris Mann came close to replicating the Kelly corridor. He won six of those eight counties, but lost Sedgwick — home to Wichita — and Geary — home to Fort Riley. He lost the attorney general’s race to Kris Kobach.
The race for state treasurer also showed some signs of the Kelly corridor. Democrat Lynn Rogers won Wyandotte, Johnson, Douglas, Shawnee and Riley counties. Statewide, though, Rogers lost big, garnering just 41% of the vote against Republican Steven Johnson.
Other statewide races, like the U.S. Senate, secretary of state and commissioner of insurance didn’t show many signs of a Democratic corridor developing. For instance, only three counties — Douglas, Johnson and Wyandotte — voted against Republican Jerry Moran. Douglas County was the county where Moran fared the poorest, receiving only 31.5% of the vote.
Yes, Moran lost in Johnson County. In fact, Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt was the only Republican in a statewide race to win in Johnson County. That would have been hard to fathom just a few years ago. Johnson County at one point in its history was a poster for country club Republicanism. On Tuesday, it was a major, national Democratic success story.
Democrat Sharice Davids won her reelection bid to the U.S. House of Representatives, and she has Johnson County to thank. Davids won Johnson County by about 38,800 votes. Her total margin of victory in the entire district was about 34,000 votes.
Kelly did even better in Johnson County. She won by 50,175 votes in Johnson County. Her total margin of victory statewide was about 14,000 votes.
So, while Davids and Kelly had big wins, maybe Johnson County was the biggest winner. It long has been the richest county in Kansas, and Tuesday seemed to go a long way in cementing its place as the most powerful, too.
Finally, one piece of trivia for you, if you find yourself stuck in a really lame trivia contest. The constitutional amendment requiring sheriffs to be elected won in every Kansas county except one. The one where it lost … Douglas County.
It wasn’t even that close. The No vote took 56% of the vote in Douglas County, compared to the Yes vote wining 62% statewide. Douglas County’s sheriff, a Democrat, urged residents to vote for the amendment, but that seemed to have little impact with local voters.