President Donald Trump won Kansas’ 2nd District by nearly 20 points last fall, but Democrats have Republicans on the defensive in the open seat race.
GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins is not seeking re-election to a sixth term in the eastern Kansas district, retiring from public office altogether. Republicans normally wouldn’t have to worry about the seat falling into Democratic hands. Trump topped Hillary Clinton last year, 56 percent to 37 percent, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections, while Jenkins won 61 percent to 33 percent.
But former state House Minority Leader Paul Davis is a credible Democratic contender this cycle. He announced his candidacy for the 2nd District seat last week, and declared he wouldn’t support Nancy Pelosi for leader of the House Democrats. In 2014, Davis was the Democratic nominee for governor, losing to Gov. Sam Brownback statewide but carrying this district, 51 percent to 45 percent.
On the Republican side, state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald and state Rep. Kevin Jones are running, but the field may not be settled.
Davis should be a quality candidate, but he won’t be facing the polarizing Brownback next year. Republicans will try to paint him as a “liberal lawyer from Lawrence,” which could resonate in a more ideological federal race as opposed to state races that tend to focus on local issues. But even GOP sources who believe the party will ultimately hold the seat admit that the National Republican Congressional Committee will probably have to devote some time, money, and energy into the race.
The 3rd District, represented by GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, has been getting attention for a few years now, and even more so after Clinton narrowly carried it over Trump, 47 percent to 46 percent. But the president’s strong performance in the 2nd District last year doesn’t insulate it from a potential Democratic victory. Trump carried Kansas’ 4th District 60 percent to 33 percent, yet GOP state Treasurer Ron Estes struggled to a 52-46 percent special election victory over Democrat James Thompson in April. Davis is expected to be a considerably better candidate than Thompson, in a better district for his party.
Seats like Kansas’ 2nd District are important for Democrats in their path to a majority. Considering they need to gain a net of 24 seats, Democrats can’t rely on only sweeping the 23 districts Clinton carried that are also represented by a Republican member of Congress. But recruiting strong challengers in Republican-leaning districts, particularly open seats, would take pressure off defeating well-established GOP incumbents.