Three weeks before a competitive primary, Kansas GOP Rep. Steve Watkins was charged Tuesday with voter fraud, according to multiple local media reports.
Watkins was under investigation for illegally voting in a Topeka election in 2019, and on Tuesday, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay reportedly charged Watkins with three felonies and one misdemeanor, according to WIBW.
Watkins faces charges of “interference with law enforcement, providing false information; voting without being qualified; unlawful advance voting; and failing to notify the DMV of change of address.” Watkins allegedly listed a UPS store address on his voter registration form.
News of the charges broke just as a GOP primary debate was starting on KSNT, an NBC affiliate. Watkins called the charges “a sideshow” and “very suspicious,” noting the timing shortly before the primary.
“I’ll leave it to the voters to decide what the district attorney’s evidence is and how strong it is and whether there should be some process of prosecution here and ultimate conviction,” Watkins said.
Watkins later added, “I’ve done nothing wrong and look forward to setting the record straight.”
Watkins faces two challengers in the Aug. 4 primary, including state Treasurer Jake LaTurner. LaTurner had been running for Senate but dropped that bid to challenge Watkins, arguing that Watkins is not a true conservative.
LaTurner said the charges put the district in play in November if Watkins is the Republican nominee.
“We need to put our best foot forward,” LaTurner said. “Clearly, our current congressman with three felony charges and a misdemeanor charge is not the person to do that.”
Rumors swirled last August that Watkins may resign because of an unspecified personal scandal, but Watkins denied that he was stepping down. Watkins faced questions about his party affiliation in 2018, when he won a crowded GOP primary in the open 2nd District.
Democrats believe they have a strong candidate to take on Watkins in the 2nd District in Michelle De La Isla, the first Hispanic mayor of Topeka. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added De La Isla to its Red to Blue program for strong contenders in June.
"If you want to be trusted to write our laws, you should at least follow them. Steve Watkins has proven that he can’t pass this basic test," said DCCC spokesman Brooke Goren.
President Donald Trump carried the 2nd District by 18 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solidly Republican.