One of the most closely watched races in the state this campaign season is in the 2nd Congressional District of eastern Kansas. Two-term Republican Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, is facing a challenge from Topeka pastor Tobias Schlingensiepen, a political newcomer. KPR’s Stephen Koranda has more on the race, and how the candidates have been branding themselves and each other.
Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins and her Democratic challenger, Tobias Schlingensiepen, are shaking hands with supporters and meeting people on the KU campus.
The chance for glad-handing came right after a debate, one of several between the two. In these debates, Jenkins points to work she’s done on behalf of Kansas in her nearly four years in Congress - including times where she says she reached across the aisle. But she also points out that when she first came to Congress, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. And these days, Jenkins paints herself as a conservative -- who has fought against a tide of Democratic bills.
“The stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, cap and trade. They actually believe that the government can solve our problems, and I happen to believe that many times the government is the problem.”
Schlingensiepen is new to elective politics. But while this is his first time running for office, he has been an advocate for various issues in the past. Now, he's trying to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with partisanship and gridlock in Congress.
“I’m in this race to bring traditional Kansas values to Washington. But I can’t do that, and no one can, until we change the way Washington works.”
Tobias has tried to characterize Jenkins as a Washington insider - saying she's in the pocket of corporations and special interest groups who fund her campaign. Jenkins enjoys a big fundraising advantage over Schlingensiepen, but he's quick to point out that some of her funding has come from big banks.
“Now, there’s nothing wrong with them giving my opponent money, and there’s nothing wrong with her accepting it. What is wrong is for my opponent to accept their money while voting for their interests, instead of yours.”
Jenkins says her opponent is distorting the facts, and that she has received a lot of support from individuals and community banks. She says she voted against some bank regulations because they were a bad idea, like the Dodd-Frank bill.
“Anybody familiar with Barney Frank’s financial bill knows that it was not good for Kansas. He was trying to fix a problem and he didn’t accomplish it with Dodd-Frank. It is doing great harm to our local main street banks and credit unions.”
The two have stark differences on some of the big issues. On the economy, Jenkins wants reduced taxes and regulations. Schlingensiepen wants investment in education and infrastructure.
Jenkins has several advantages in this race: she has more name recognition, more money for things like campaign signs and advertising and a district with more registered Republicans than Democrats. Because of this, Schlingensiepen's effort to unseat her has been an uphill battle.
“On average, people who run for the first time for an office like U.S. House or U.S. Senate aren’t successful.”
That’s Michael Lynch, a political science professor at the University of Kansas.
“He’s not a candidate that has a lot of experience being a candidate, he hasn't run for office previously. And having his first office be a federal House election is tough.”
Lynch says Jenkins’ strategy of saying she has worked across the aisle on some issues is a good angle, but he says it’s not clear if voters will be convinced.
“It’s pretty hard to look at the last two years of Congress and point out a lot of really great examples of bipartisanship.”
For a first time candidate in a tough race, Lynch says Schlingensiepen has done a good job. He’s been actively campaigning, speaking and taking part in debates, and getting out the Democratic message. Even so, Lynch says Schlingensiepen is climbing a steep hill if he hopes to be giving an acceptance speech when the polls close. In Lawrence, I’m SK.