The executive director of the Kansas Republican Party said Tuesday that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a “drag” on candidates, and singled out Johnson County as a center of discontent with the Republican nominee.
“Johnson County is the heart of where Republicans are unhappy with Trump and probably won’t vote for him,” Clay Barker said, citing a data analysis from the Republican National Committee.
“Of all the places in Kansas, Johnson County (is where) the presidential campaign is a drag or a headwind on our candidates,” Barker said. “And I don’t think it’s going to cause Republicans, like core Republicans, to not vote for (Sen. Jerry) Moran, (Rep. Kevin) Yoder, whoever, but it’s going to affect the true unaffiliated, independent voter who doesn’t have a strong tie to the Republican Party. They may vote for (Hillary) Clinton, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Clinton wins the 3rd District.”
The 3rd District is where Yoder is trying to fend off a challenge from Democrat Jay Sidie. That race has become more heated in recent weeks, with a poll released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showing Trump 10 points behind Clinton in the district. Sidie was four points behind Yoder in that poll, which put him within the margin of error.
A spokesperson for Yoder’s campaign said they didn’t have any comment on Barker’s remarks.
Prominent Kansas Republicans, including Gov. Sam Brownback and Yoder, have continued to support Trump, even after his candidacy came under fire in recent weeks after a 2005 tape surfaced of Trump talking about committing acts that could be defined as sexual assault.
Barker went on to say that Trump may hurt legislative candidates down ballot.
“Somebody starts voting for Clinton and just goes down the ballot Democrat, or they don’t know who they’re voting for,” Barker said. “I don’t think it’s a plus for us, the presidential campaign. It’s not giving us anything.”
He said most of the moderates who won primary races for the Kansas Legislature in August have to work carefully to not alienate Republican voters. That election saw a handful of Johnson County moderate Republicans knock conservative incumbent legislators out of office. Many of their campaigns criticized policies that were passed during Brownback’s time in office.
“They run as anti-Brownback,” Barker said of the moderate Republicans. “Well, the Democrat can always outdo them on that issue. So how do they distinguish themselves? If they go too conservative, then their supporters may walk away. If they go too moderate, the conservatives won’t vote for them. They each have to weave that their own way.
“It’s the same thing with Trump. You can’t push back too hard or his supporters get fired up. But if you like him too much, then a lot of the people in the middle, and especially women, they’ll just say (to) ‘hell with this.’ ”
Bryan Lowry of The Wichita Eagle contributed to this report.