Rep. Steve Watkins ousted in Kansas Republican primary

State Treasurer Jake LaTurner wins nod for House seat Democrats are targeting

Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins was charged with voter fraud in connection with using a post office box as his address on a voter registration form. He lost the GOP nomination for the 2nd District on Tuesday.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins was charged with voter fraud in connection with using a post office box as his address on a voter registration form. He lost the GOP nomination for the 2nd District on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 4, 2020 at 10:49pm

Embattled Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins on Tuesday became the fourth House Republican to be denied his party’s nomination for another term this cycle, losing the 2nd District primary to state Treasurer Jake LaTurner three weeks after being hit with felony vote fraud charges.

Republicans also chose Amanda Adkins, a former state GOP chairwoman, to take on targeted freshman Democrat Sharice Davids in the 3rd District. And former Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann won the GOP nomination for the open deep-red 1st District.

[Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay loses primary]

LaTurner, who said 2nd District voters needed a representative who shared their “conservative values,” was leading the three-way field with 49 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race at 9:30 p.m. Central time. Watkins was in second with 34 percent followed by lawyer and businessman Dennis Taylor at 17 percent.

The win comes after Watkins was charged with three counts of felony voter fraud and one misdemeanor on July 14 for listing a UPS store post office box as his home address on a 2019 voter registration form. He subsequently gave up his House committee assignments

In the Democratic primary, Topeka Mayor Michelle de la Isla was leading with 78 percent to progressive James Windholz’s 22 percent when the AP called the race at 8:24 Central time. De la Isla’s latest disclosure showed she had $516,000 left in the bank on July 15.

Watkins won the seat in 2018 by less than 1 point, after Trump had carried the district by 18 points two years earlier. The freshman lawmaker has struggled to build alliances with powerful Republicans in the state, who have questioned his conservative credentials.

LaTurner was openly recruited by former Gov. Jeff Colyer, after a whisper campaign that Watkins was about to resign because of an unspecified personal scandal. 

The race was complicated by Taylor’s bid, which he launched on the last day for campaign filing and ran on a shoestring budget after reportedly declining to accept PAC money. But he earned plaudits for his long career in state and federal government. 

Watkins called the felony charges a “sideshow.” He raised $1 million and had $256,000 left in the bank on July 15, compared with LaTurner’s $776,000 raised and $379,000 on hand. Taylor took in just $76,000 and had $25,000 left in his campaign account. 

A single-candidate PAC supporting LaTurner called Fighting for Kansas PAC also spent $161,000 on ads and direct mail attacking Watkins and another $6,700 supporting LaTurner. Watkins was bolstered by a new group called The Heartland PAC, which launched earlier this month.

Inside Elections rates the general election Solid Republican, but national Democrats say the district, which is largely rural but encompasses the state capital of Topeka and the university town of Lawrence, has enough suburban voters to make it competitive.

Adkins touted health experience

Adkins, the 3rd District GOP nominee, is also a health care company executive. She was leading a five-candidate field with 40 percent of the vote when the AP called the race at 9:50 p.m. Central time. Sara Hart Weir, the former CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society, was in second with 23 percent, just ahead of  former Roeland Park Mayor Adrienne Vallejo Foster with 20 percent. 

Adkins was the top fundraiser in the race, pulling in $970,000 with $427,000 cash on hand as of July 15. Hart Weir raised $725,000 and had $323,000 in the bank, and Foster raised $381,000 and had $35,000 left.

Adkins, a onetime adviser to former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, has received more than $200,000 in support from an outside group called Heartland USA PAC, reportedly financed by her father. The group placed ads criticizing Hart Weir for working in 2004 for Democrat Dennis Moore, who previously held the seat for six terms.

Adkins said she had the experience in business and health care to help lead the country through the COVID-19 crisis.

Mann likely to fill Marshall’s seat

In the deep-red 1st District, Mann is likely headed to Congress after winning the GOP nomination for the seat Republican incumbent Roger Marshall vacated to run for Senate. Marshall won the GOP nomination Tuesday in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Roberts.

Mann was leading with 54 percent of the vote when the AP called the race at 10:17 p.m. Central time. Retired Air Force fighter pilot Bill Clifford was in second with 34 percent.

Mann, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2010, raised $760,000 for the race through July 15, trailing Clifford’s $932,000 ($590,000 of which was self-funded.) He had $313,000 left in the bank as of July 15.

But he benefited from more outside group spending.

American Values First spent $130,000 on ads attacking Clifford’s record on property taxes while he was a Finney County commissioner.

Americans for Prosperity Action, a super PAC financed by the Koch political network, spent $52,000 supporting Mann, while Conservative Outsider PAC spent $45,000 opposing him.

With Honor Fund, a super PAC that supports military veterans from both parties, spent $266,000 on behalf of Clifford.

Mann will be the heavy favorite in November against Democrat Kali Barnett. The elementary school teacher was leading historic preservation advocate Christy Cauble Davis, 63 percen to 37 percent, when the AP called the race at 11:28 pm. Central time.

Besides Watkins, GOP Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Scott Tipton of Colorado lost their primaries this year, while Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia failed to secure the GOP nomination at a party convention. Two House Democrats previously lost primaries this cycle: Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski and New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel.

Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay joined them on Tuesday, losing his bid for an 11th term to Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush.