Kevin Yoder is used to skating to victory. This time around, he may find himself skating on thinner ice.
The three-term Republican congressman from Kansas’ 3rd District — mostly Johnson and Wyandotte counties — has won by 10 percentage points or more in almost every race going back to his days in the Kansas Legislature. At 41, his 14-year political career has been one landslide after another.
But in the 2018 race for re-election, Yoder will be saddled with an albatross unlike anything he has experienced before. Donald Trump, a historically unpopular president, could weigh the Kansas congressman down to the point where the unthinkable just might occur. Yoder could lose in a race where his Democratic opponent is certain to urge voters to send a message to Trump. Such a message was key in the Virginia race for governor, where the Democrat won convincingly on Tuesday.
Keep in mind, Hillary Clinton beat Trump by one percentage point in Yoder’s highly Republican district in the 2016 presidential race. That suggests that flocks of moderate Republicans abandoned their party to reject Trump.
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Yoder may try to finesse this situation by claiming he is his own man. The record, however, is clear. According to the reputable website FiveThirtyEight, Yoder’s votes line up with Trump’s policy positions 94 percent of the time.
Yoder has offered his full support for the two key issues championed by Trump. The first was the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a failed effort to replace it with a Republican plan that would have knocked 23 million Americans off of health insurance. That was and is a Yoder favorite. The second is tax reform. Yoder has already voiced strong support for a plan that is very similar to the tax fiasco in Kansas, spearheaded by Gov. Sam Brownback. Yoder, above all, should know the folly of massive tax cuts with the promise the economy will accelerate enough to compensate for the lost revenue. Yoder should be preaching to his colleagues to research that failed experiment in his home state.
It would not be unprecedented in recent history for a Democrat to represent this district. Democrat Dennis Moore was the 3rd District congressman for more than a decade, from 1999 to 2011. It could happen again, which — prior to Trump — is something I never would have imagined.
Granted, Yoder has some advantages working in his favor. The district boundaries have changed dramatically to exclude part of Douglas County, which included Democrat-leaning Lawrence. Lawrence was replaced by the staunchly Republican portion of Miami County.
Moore had a unique background that allowed him to carry Johnson County in every race he ran after 2002. Before his run for Congress, Moore served as the elected district attorney for Johnson County and, later, as an elected trustee for Johnson County Community College. He earned great respect from the community, and his constituents were familiar with his moderate tendencies.
If Yoder is to be beaten by a Democrat, it will have to be a candidate who is not an extreme liberal but is a Moore-like moderate. Six Democrats have filed so far. To get out their messages will cost plenty. Any of them would need all the funding he or she could muster. Yoder is renowned for his fundraising prowess. His campaign already has $1.5 million in the bank, and it’s still early in the game.
The election is a year away. The biggest question we do not know the answer to is: Will Trump be as unpopular then as he is today? My hunch is yes. Trump will remain controversial and disliked, particularly in the 3rd District.
If I were Yoder, I would be concerned. His seat may not be so safe this time around.