JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) – Amanda Adkins says inflation is dragging the U.S. economy downhill fast, and she wants to tell every voter in the 3rd Congressional District that their Kansas congresswoman, Sharice Davids, is part of the reason gas and groceries cost so much.
“People are suffering now,” said Adkins at a debate aired on Kansas City PBS. “We have interest rates that are rising. We are entering a recession. And that is all due to the bad policies on the part of President Joe Biden and Sharice Davids has voted it 100% of the time.”
Adkins paints Davids as a Biden lackey, and an accomplice in policies driving up inflation. It’s a strategy reflected in Republican ads all over the country.
Biden’s approval ratings hover in the low 40s. Emporia State political science professor Michael Smith said it makes sense for Adkins to saddle her opponent with an unpopular president.
“Sharice Davids often supports President Biden’s priorities,” he said. “On the other hand, the implication that that’s why the U.S. recently experienced a spike in inflation is a much more dubious claim.”
Inflation is spiking globally, not just in this country. So it’s a stretch to blame it all on Biden. Or Davids. But Davids backed Biden’s nearly $2 trillion pandemic stimulus package that flooded money into the economy. And many economists suspect that the economic sugar rush helped spark the worst inflation in 40 years.
Biden’s stimulus also brought hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars to the Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, an area that covers most of the Kansas City metro south of Interstate 70, and more than $2.5 billion to the state and local governments in Kansas.
Davids boasts of delivering a tsunami of federal money into the district during a pandemic and economic shutdown.
And Davids claims that other popular programs and rights are threatened by Adkins.
“She has aligned herself with very extreme politicians who are looking to decimate social security and Medicare, supports a total ban on abortion with no exceptions, not for rape or incest,” Davids at that debate.
Adkins’ campaign website says that she believes that life begins at conception and that it should be protected from that moment. She supported a Kansas constitutional amendment that would have cleared the way for a possible ban on abortion. That measure failed, convincingly, in a statewide vote in August.
Adkins says she respects that vote. She says abortion regulations should be decided by states, not the federal government. And she says a national abortion ban would be an inappropriate overreach of federal authority.
That Davids’ attack on Adkins over abortion rights reflects a national Democratic strategy. But Davids adds a local twist — former Gov. Sam Brownback. Biden may be an unpopular president, but Brownback was the least popular governor in the country by the time he left office in 2018.
“She was a senior aid to Sam Brownback as he decimated our state's budget, destroyed our public education system, and downgraded our credit rating as a state,” Davids said.
Brownback’s deep tax cuts were followed by a budget crisis and set off huge cuts to schools and state services. Adkins wasn’t in his administration. She was a Cerner Corporation executive for 15 years and a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill before that. But she was a valuable Brownback ally. She raised money. She ran his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign and she chaired the Kansas Republican Party.
“She’s a political operative and a very good fundraiser,” Smith said. “She was party chair during a substantial portion of Brownback’s run for governor and time in office. And she was a major supporter and major fundraiser for him.”
Adkins lost to Davids two years ago. But the boundaries of the congressional district for that race are gone. The Kansas Legislature stripped off the most reliably Democratic part of it, northern Wyandotte County, and swapped in rural and solidly Republican Franklin, and Anderson counties plus the half of Miami County that wasn’t included in the last election.
“It turned the district from the most racially diverse district in Kansas to now the whitest, the least racially diverse district in Kansas,” said University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller. “This district has been gerrymandered. It has been whitewashed. But it’s still dominated by Johnson County.”
Miller says the gerrymander aimed at hurting Davids' reelection prospects created one of the country’s better-educated, more upwardly mobile congressional districts —just the type that’s recently been warming up to Democrats.
“Johnson County has changed incredibly,” Miller said. “That once safely Republican (area) has gotten more Democratic and probably, in 2020, was a straight ticket Democratic voter. And it’s really where that voter is this year and we don't have a good gauge (about what will) decide this.”
Davids remains the favorite. A New York Times poll last week had Davids holding a double-digit lead.
Frank Morris is a reporter for KCUR, the Kansas News Service, and NPR based out of Kansas City. Follow him on Twitter @FrankNewsman. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio, focused on public policy and issues affecting listeners throughout the region. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to the Kansas News Service.