Steve Rose

A voter’s dilemma: Take a risk on Sharice Davids or stick with Rep. Kevin Yoder?

Sharice Davids
Sharice Davids The Star

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder has got a tiger by the tail, by the name of Sharice Davids. She is smart. She is forceful. And she is quite likable.

I came away with those impressions after a one-on-one interview last week with the Democratic nominee in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District.

The district, which covers mostly Johnson and Wyandotte counties, is considered a toss-up because Yoder, the four-term incumbent, is one of only a couple dozen Republican members of Congress who represent districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Davids has quickly learned to be careful about what she says off-handedly. She flubbed this summer when she agreed with an interviewer who prodded her into advocating for the abolition of ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She later came to her senses and refuted her own statement. That slip-up is probably one reason why she insisted before our meeting that we keep much of our conversation off the record, unless we agreed otherwise. After all, Davids is a political novice, and her positions on many key issues are still gestating.

What Davids did want to discuss at our meeting is her personal story, which is compelling. The Native American has risen from a very modest upbringing. After being raised by a single mother, she graduated from an Ivy League law school, practiced law and became a White House fellow. That incredible story has been told — and will be retold — throughout the campaign. But that history alone provides little insight into her political philosophy.

Davids convinced me that she is no radical Democrat, which is a relief. She has been unfairly compared to the New York upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who knocked off a longtime establishment Democratic congressman in a primary race. Davids wanted to go on the record separating herself from that campaign and its left-wing positions. Davids was adamant that she’s not a “Bernie Sanders Democrat” and said she would not invite the self-declared democratic socialist senator from Vermont to campaign for her.

After that same stunning New York upset, a growing number of Democratic candidates across the country began to embrace those radical positions advocated by Ocasio-Cortez, such as Medicare–for-all or a single-payer health care system. While Davids is not calling for single-payer or Medicare-for-all, she believes all Americans should have access to affordable quality health care. She did not explain how she would achieve that goal or pay for it.

At the lunch meeting, I wanted to get to know Davids as an individual. After all, she came out of nowhere to prevail over five other Democrats in the August primary.

It is notable, however, that in the GOP primary, instead of casting a ballot for Yoder, an astounding one-third of all Republican voters chose to vote for one of the two other candidates, who were totally unknown, who had never seriously campaigned and who had no chance of defeating Yoder. I was one of them. This was despite a decade of my past support for Yoder in state and national politics. My vote was a warning shot telling Yoder that I strongly disapprove of President Donald Trump and Yoder’s close alliance with him. Plenty of other Republicans apparently wanted to send their own messages of discontent.

But casting a symbolic, meaningless protest vote in a Republican primary is pretty much without consequence. It would be a lot riskier to reject the Republican incumbent for a fairly unknown Democrat. Indeed, what kind of Democratic representative would Sharice Davids be if she did defeat Yoder?

It is clear to me Davids would be no Dennis Moore, a moderate Democratic congressman who represented the 3rd District for a decade until he retired in 2010. I am trying to better understand how Davids might vote and what her priorities are. But I already strongly disagree with Trump’s agenda and Yoder’s alliance with the president. There will be plenty of personal agony in choosing between these two impressive candidates.