Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder lamented his opponent Sharice Davids’ last-minute decision to pull out of a candidate forum he attended Wednesday in Johnson County, calling her an extreme liberal and a “ghost of a candidate.”
Davids, a Democrat, had agreed in August to attend the Johnson County Bar Association’s luncheon in Overland Park, according to Tracey DeMarea, the organization’s executive director.
Yoder, the incumbent in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, had not been expected to attend until the night before the event after the U.S. House canceled its scheduled votes for the week. His campaign announced late Tuesday that he would attend, declaring it the first debate between the two candidates after weeks of disputes between the campaigns over debate logistics.
But by Wednesday morning, Davids had pulled out of the event and it had transformed into a solo performance by Yoder. Her campaign cited the last-minute changes to the event as the reason for her absence.
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Yoder took questions on varying topics, from immigration to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, presenting himself as a Republican who can work across the aisle. He criticized Davids’ decision not to attend, her support for single-payer health care and a comment about abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that she made in a podcast this summer. Davids has supported single payer in concept, but said she would prioritize improvements in access and more realistic policy goals.
“I think that’s a disservice to the voters,” Yoder said of Davids’ absence in an interview with reporters. “It’s disrespectful to the voters. It doesn’t allow them to make an informed choice, and that’s because she thinks she has the race in the bag (and) she doesn’t have to debate.”
Davids’ campaign spokeswoman, Allison Teixeira Sulier, insisted in a statement prior to the forum that Davids still plans to debate Yoder in the near future.
“Sharice looks forward to debating Kevin Yoder on the important issues facing Kansans, that’s why we have agreed to a televised debate hosted by the KC Star on October 29. Rep. Yoder still has not accepted this invitation and instead is playing last minute games and trying to hide behind ticketed events, closed to the majority of Kansans,” Teixeira Sulier said. Wednesday’s event was open to members of the Bar Association and the media.
Yoder noted that Kansans will have already begun voting when the Oct. 29 debate rolls around. Early voting in Kansas begins Oct. 17.
“She owes the voters to come honest about her positions today, not at the end of the month,” Yoder said.
Yoder left open the possibility he would attend the Oct. 29 debate.
“We’ll get there. There’s six other potential debates between now and then,” Yoder said. “We want to see where she is on those first before we discuss what’s going to happen at the end of the month.”
Davids, who nabbed former President Barack Obama’s endorsement this week, currently leads Yoder in public polls and has outraised his campaign by $1.6 million since the start of July.
In his speech, Yoder sought to tie himself to Kansas Republicans, like his predecessor Rep. Jan Meyers and former Sen. Bob Dole, saying he’s “someone who works to get things done.”
“I’m certainly a Republican,” Yoder said. “I’m certainly someone who believes in conservative values, like hard work, lower taxes, free enterprise. I’m not a liberal Democrat. But I’m also someone who understands the rich tradition in this state of bipartisanship.”
Yoder said he worked with Obama to renew the Violence Against Women Act and pass the 21st Century Cures Act, and touted the civility caucus he co-chairs with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a Kansas City Democrat. With Trump, he said he’s worked on cutting taxes and rolling back regulations with the goal of economic growth.
“I’m willing to work with whoever is president to get things done for our future,” Yoder said. “Others want to focus on how they can obstruct, resist or impeach, and I know there’s definitely a strong movement in that. But that’s not who I am. That’s never been my goal. My goal has been to serve and to represent this community.”
Yoder took questions on a breadth of policy topics. He said he could support some measures to prevent gun violence, such as improved background checks, spending more on school safety, encouraging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence and banning “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic weapons to be fired at a rate like that of automatic weapons.
Though Republicans have worked to roll back Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Yoder said he thought those with pre-existing conditions should be covered and not charged more for insurance. Health experts say a bill backed by Yoder, however, could inflate costs for people with pre-existing conditions.
Yoder took a dig a Davids for a July comment she made on a podcast voicing support for abolishing ICE, calling her “radical.”
As the Senate weighs whether to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, Yoder said he found testimony from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, compelling. Yoder said he disagreed with Trump’s comments at a rally Tuesday night where he mocked Ford’s testimony.
Yoder, who was first elected in 2010, said he “may be the underdog” in the race. The Washington Post deemed Yoder’s seat one of 15 most likely to flip parties.
“The reason she won’t debate is she thinks she has this race in the bag and she doesn’t need to work hard for it — that she can count on millions of dollars of out-of-state money to win this election for her,” Yoder said. “And we’re going to be on doorsteps. We’re going to do debates; we’re going to do parades. We’re going to use shoe leather. We’re going to ask for every single vote.”
Prior to the event, Teixeira Sulier accused Yoder of resorting to “political ploys.”
“After voting to raise healthcare premiums, gut protections for pre-existing conditions and raise taxes on middle class families it’s no surprise that Rep. Yoder is resorting to political ploys instead of trying to defend his dangerous record.”
Teixeira Sulier said in a statement after Yoder’s remarks that while Yoder is busy “grandstanding and lying” about his record on protections for those with pre-existing conditions, “Sharice is focused on our grass-roots campaign and connecting directly with Kansas voters who tell us they’re sick and tired of Donald Trump Yes-Man Kevin Yoder selling them out to help his big money donors.”
As of last week, Davids had agreed to make a brief appearance at the event and to field questions from the crowd. The first the campaign heard about Yoder’s participation and a debate format was Tuesday night, according to Davids’ campaign.
Before the event Wednesday, the Bar Association’s DeMarea said in a statement that she was “disappointed that Sharice Davids can now not attend our Bar luncheon today, as we have some 280 (to) 300 members attending and it would have been a great opportunity for our local attorneys and judges to hear from our two congressional candidates.”
In an interview, DeMarea said Davids’ campaign made it clear Tuesday night as it heard that Yoder might attend that Davids would not debate at the event. Had both candidates attended, the format would have changed from a question-and-answer forum to a debate, DeMarea said.
Yoder’s campaign has been accusing Davids of refusing to debate for weeks after she did not agree to a forum last month hosted by the Kansas City, Kan., Chamber of Commerce because of a scheduling conflict.