Aimee Patton is a die-hard Democrat who follows politics closely. In fact, years ago, she wrote about politics as a guest columnist for The Star.
But these days when Patton surveys the Democratic race for Congress in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, she’s utterly perplexed. Who’s she going to back? Patton has no idea. And if someone like Aimee Patton is uncertain, I can only imagine that many of her fellow Democrats are undecided as well.
“It’s fun to have choices, but I think we’re a little bit overwhelmed,” Patton told me.
How could she not be? Six candidates make up the Democratic field. (Almost) all are first-time candidates. All are roundly displeased with President Donald Trump and the race’s incumbent, Republican Kevin Yoder. All offer progressive platforms on guns, the environment and health care.
All six are earnest and eager. They’re running for good reasons but remain largely unknown to the general public. After interviewing all six at least once, I don’t know how average voters who are raising a couple of kids, slogging through 45 hours a week at work and checking their cellphones every 10 minutes are going to sort through them. The similarities are overwhelming.
A campaign aide for one of the candidates estimated that 70 percent of voters are still wavering, meaning this race likely will go down to Election Day with legions of voters making up their minds at the last minute or when they walk into polling booths on Aug. 7.
“This is probably the most difficult one I can recall,” said another undecided Democratic voter, Jennifer Gunby. “There’s a lot of similarities.”
And, yes, that’s adding to the tensions of a very long campaign.
“I haven’t been sleeping as well as I have in the past,” the aide said.
So how will voters made up their minds?
For many, the choice won’t be unlike picking a lollipop. What flavor do you like? There’s Tom Niermann, the teacher in the race. Sharice Davids focuses on her work with underserved communities. Sylvia Williams touts her private-sector experience.
Brent Welder will fight for you and bulldoze Yoder into the earth. Mike McCamon is the nonprofit, new technology guy. Jay Sidie was the 2016 Democratic nominee who, for a short time, put a serious scare into Yoder.
That Democrats are facing a tough choice is something new for many. The party hasn’t had this luxury, if you want to call it that, in years.
“Welcome to primary politics,” said University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller. “Every time when you have a year where there is a sense that a certain party has the wind behind its back, you get a lot of crowded primaries on that party’s side.”
In Miller’s mind, the 3rd District race has divided into two tiers. The top tier includes Niermann, Welder and Davids. As the lone woman in that tier, Davids might have a shot, he said.
At least voters have a few more weeks to sort this out. They’ll be eyeballing TV ads and mailers and social media posts with a little more scrutiny than usual. There will be a heavy emphasis on neighbors talking to neighbors.
It wouldn’t hurt if the candidates themselves talked more about their differences. Unless there aren’t any.
Hand me that orange lollipop over there, would ya?