The race to replace Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins is starting to heat up. A former Democratic candidate for Kansas governor, Paul Davis, said Thursday that he’s considering a run for the 2nd District congressional seat in 2018.
Davis narrowly lost to incumbent Republican Sam Brownback in the 2014 race for governor. Davis is from Lawrence and he was formerly the Democratic leader in the Kansas House of Representatives.
In an interview, Davis said he has concerns about some of the policies proposed by Republican President Donald Trump.
“I think a lot of people who supported President Trump expected that he was going to try to change Washington in a positive way, get rid of the special interest influence,” said Davis. “He’s certainly changing Washington in some ways, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily for the better.”
However, Davis said he worked across the aisle during his time as a lawmaker in Topeka and he could take that sprit to Washington to combat “political bickering.”
“The process doesn’t work if we don’t try to work together," said Davis. "I think that’s what people expect."
Davis had been rumored as a candidate for governor in 2018, but he’s instead pinning his hopes on the congressional seat.
“I think Congress right now desperately needs people who are going to attack the problems that people want to have addressed,” said Davis.
The economy is one issue Davis said he would try to tackle in Washington.
“This economy just is not working for middle-class and lower-income Americans. We see an economy where big corporations and people at the top end of the income scale are just doing better and better,” said Davis.
Congresswoman Jenkins has said she won’t run for reelection or any office in 2018.
Republican State Senator Steve Fitzgerald said earlier this month that he would run for the job. In an interview Thursday, he said he believes he can keep the seat in Republican hands.
“We need a Congress that’s going to help President Trump achieve the agenda that the American people voted for,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald would also work to boost the economy, and part of that would be reducing federal regulations.
“I think it will be liberating for the economy, for business, for the states, and I think we will regain a lot of the energy that we need in order to move forward,” said Fitzgerald.
It’s never easy for anyone going to Congress for a first term, said Fitzgerald. He pointed to his work in the political “trenches” in the Legislature, on a local school board and for the state Republican Party. He said that experience will allow him to get up to speed fast.
“I’m always running,” said Fitzgerald. “I think I have enough experience and knowledge to be able to pick up quickly on a number of the issues that are going to be before us.”
Fitzgerald is a lawmaker who doesn't mince words, and he made some headlines recently when he compared Planned Parenthood to Nazis.
The 2nd District seat covers much of eastern quarter of Kansas, including the cities of Topeka, Lawrence and Pittsburg.
University of Kansas Political Science Professor Patrick Miller said the competitiveness of the 2nd District will hinge on a number of factors, such as the quality of the candidates and the popularity of President Trump
“(The district) leans Republican, but there’s a healthy Democratic base to it, and under the right conditions Democrats can put it in contention,” said Miller.
Republican Kansas Treasurer Ron Estes beat Democrat James Thompson in a special election this week for the 4th District congressional seat around Wichita. Estes won with 53 percent of the vote to Thompson's 46 percent. The district has a much larger number of registered Republicans, so the outcome was tighter than many past races.
Davis pointed to the 4th district results and said they show “a lot of support” for Democrats. Miller said don’t draw conclusions from the 4th District results until after some other upcoming special elections for Congress.
“This could be a blip, but it could also be the start of a trend,” said Miller of the 4th District results.
Vernon Fields, a city council member in Bashor, filed to run as a Republican for the 2nd District. Democrat Kelly Standley has said he will also run for the seat.
It may feel like the 2016 election is just behind us, but this is not early for candidates to line up for a seat in Congress.
“Within days of the 2016 presidential election, the national party committees were talking to potential candidates for 2018,” said Miller.