Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder heads into the 2018 elections more vulnerable than he’s ever been.
How vulnerable? Let us count the ways.
For one, the last time I checked, no fewer than six Democrats were running for Kansas’ 3rd District congressional nomination. A seventh, Andrea Ramsey, was in the race until allegations of sexual harassment surfaced.
That’s just one sign of how vulnerable a lot of Democrats think Yoder is. In fact, the last time so many contenders packed one primary was in 2010 when Yoder joined eight other Republicans in seeking that year’s GOP nomination. Long-time Democratic office-holder Dennis Moore opted that year not to seek re-election in this tilt-Republican district.
Yoder, now 42, won the seat going away against Moore’s wife. Yoder largely sailed along until the final weeks of the 2016 race when Democrat Jay Sidie was believed to have a shot at a stunning upset.
But Yoder prevailed that year as well, trouncing Sidie, 51 to 41 percent.
A second factor this year: Yoder ranks as just one of 23 Republicans who represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. That’s significant, even if it was only by a single point, 47-46 percent.
Now, consider Yoder’s votes that you’ll be hearing a lot about between August and November. His vote for the GOP health care bill last year could have cost as many as 81,000 district residents their health coverage if that law had gone into effect. He backed the controversial Republican tax bill, too. Public support for that law has risen in recent months. Still, the notion that Yoder was aiding the rich will be used against him.
He has a well-earned reputation for backing legislation that would weaken oversight of the payday loan industry. In 2016, the Center for Responsive Politics determined that Yoder had taken more than $248,000 in donations from people and groups associated with the industry in his career. That was more than any other member of the House or Senate.
There’s not much doubt that the industry has done a lot of damage in Wyandotte County, which is part of the 3rd District.
Toss in the undeniable energy on the Democratic side this year and Yoder’s generally strong backing of the NRA, and the result is a congressman viewed as in peril, both here and in Washington.
A wild card, of course, is President Donald Trump. Yoder must walk a thin line here. He must be careful not to alienate social conservatives who support the president while creating some distance between himself and the president to appease agitated moderates.
A treacherous task it is.
The old rule in politics is you have to beat somebody with somebody. To that end, Democrats must field a contender who can weather the fury that Republicans will unleash in a bid to keep this seat.
What’s fascinating is that along with Sidie, several intriguing political newcomers have jumped into the race. They include a teacher (Tom Niermann), a high-tech and non-profit titan (Mike McCamon), a labor lawyer (Brent Welder), a retired banker (Sylvia Williams) and a mix-martial arts professional and economic development consultant (Sharice Davids).
“When elected, Davids will be Kansas’ first openly-gay Representative and the nation’s first female Native American member of Congress,” she said in announcing her run.
All these Democrats sense the same thing: This may be their year.