The head of the leading anti-abortion group in Kansas said Wednesday the organization’s political arm supports Republican Steve Watkins’ run for Congress despite earlier reservations, roughly two months after they endorsed a trio of his opponents in the GOP primary.
Watkins, who is facing Democrat Paul Davis in the 2nd congressional district, went from being a virtually unknown candidate in a wide open primary to beating a host of legislators who serve in the region.
Kansans for Life decided to endorse Watkins after he allayed the group’s concerns “by assuring us that he planned to vote pro-life in Congress,” said executive director Mary Kay Culp.
Culp said Watkins met with the Kansans for Life political action committee board after the August primary to answer questions about his candidacy that arose during the primary, including that he didn’t have an anti-abortion voting record.
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“He didn’t have a voting record period,” she said. “He’s never run for office before. We prefer to endorse people with pro-life voting records.”
Watkins said in a statement that the endorsement was an honor.
“Voters of the 2nd District know I am the only candidate who will stand up for our pro-life values and fight against pro-choice legislation in Washington unapologetically,” he said.
Watkins’ Republican opponents had attacked his candidacy during a seven-way primary contest that included the revelation that he met with Democratic Party officials last year before launching his campaign.
He also faced criticism for a mailer that could be seen as implying President Donald Trump had endorsed him, even though he hadn’t. He also confirmed he didn’t vote in the 2016 election.
Watkins won his primary last month by 3 percentage points. He was boosted in part by a political action committee funded by his father.
Culp said the group’s decision to embrace Watkins was affected by their assessment that Watkins’ Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, “is one of the most pro-abortion candidates that we’ve ever come across.”
The Davis campaign responded by referring to an incident at a candidate forum where Watkins said he was pro-choice.
Watkins told The Associated Press earlier this year that it was a “verbal gaffe.”
“It’s clear Steve Watkins believes in doing whatever it takes, saying whatever it takes, and running as whatever it takes to get elected. Kansans deserve to know — who is the real Steve Watkins?” said Kelsi Browning, a spokesperson with the Davis campaign.