Government & Politics

Former Kansas congresswoman ready to guide possible GOP challenger to Sharice Davids

Former Rep. Lynn Jenkins will likely play a major role in the campaign of a potential 2020 GOP challenger to Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids.

Jenkins, a Topeka Republican, hosted an event Sunday for Sara Hart Weir in Prairie Village as the Johnson County Republican gears up to launch a campaign for Kansas’ 3rd congressional district.

“Sara Hart Weir is Nancy Pelosi’s worst nightmare,” Jenkins told a gathering of roughly 100 Republicans in a video of the event viewed by The Star.

The five-term congresswoman registered her new lobbying and consulting firm last year before she officially wrapped up her final year in the U.S. House, a move that prompted criticism from watchdog groups.

Jenkins lobbied in Topeka for the insurance company Medica during the most recent legislative session. Weir is poised to be the first candidate to work with Jenkins’ firm, LJ Strategies, in a federal election.

The company will serve as Weir’s general campaign consultant if the Mission Republican runs for the seat, said Jared Suhn, another Republican strategist who is advising Weir.

“I think it’s fair to say, given Lynn’s been through a similar experience of facing off against a more well-known establishment candidate in the primary ( former Rep. Jim Ryun) and a first term Democrat incumbent who was elected in a wave election (former Rep. Nancy Boyda) her counsel will be very valuable to Sara,” said Suhn, a campaign consultant who has ties to Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran.

The event in Prairie Village gave Weir, 37, former CEO and president of the National Down Syndrome Society, a chance to test her campaign message as she prepares for a possible run against Davids.

“I think everyone in this room can agree that Republicans lost control of the House last cycle because we couldn’t message on two issues: Health care and those core kitchen table issues that all of us in this room care about,” Weir said.

“Now, I’ve advocated for people who are born with pre-existing conditions my entire adult life and I have seen how this current system fails them at every single turn.”

During the campaign last year, Davids, a first-time candidate, hammered incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder on the issue of health care, specifically the threat to protections for pre-existing conditions posed by Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Davids won the race by double digits.

Davids’ campaign did not comment specifically on Jenkins’ foray into the race, but instead touted the first-term Democrat’s efforts to “improve access to affordable health care and bring down the prescription drugs,” a sign that Davids plans to keep her focus on the issue in the next election.

Both parties plan to spend significant money to win the swing district that covers Johnson, Wyandotte and Miami Counties.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the national party’s main campaign wing for House races, criticized Jenkins’ involvement in the race and pointed to Weir’s brief tenure as a lobbyist for British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline early in her career.

“Lynn Jenkins embodies the revolving door between politics and lobbying, so it’s only fitting that she’s already working to put big pharma lobbyist Sara Hart Weir in Congress,” said DCCC spokeswoman Brooke Goren.

But Weir’s connection to Jenkins could be crucial for the first-time candidate in a GOP primary as she may face Amanda Adkins, the former chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party and a Cerner executive.

Adkins’ deep ties in Kansas Republican politics— as a state party chair and former Senate campaign manager for Sam Brownback— could make her a formidable candidate in the primary.

“Given my long history as a business professional, over the course of the last month I have conducted multiple exploratory round table discussions with various leaders discussing important needs related to growth and prosperity in the third district,” Adkins said in an email.

Both women met with the National Republican Congressional Committee last month. Weir also saw House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, about a potential run for the seat in March.

She will return to Washington, D.C., in July for an event with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, who previously served with Jenkins as a member of the House GOP leadership team.

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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