In the national explosion known as the midterm elections of 2018, ground zero had to be the Kansas 3rd District congressional race. There, a political novice who is Native American, openly gay and whom hardly anyone had ever heard of a year ago, swept away a historically popular, four-term Republican incumbent with 20 years of political experience, renowned for his campaigning skills and fundraising prowess.
Sharice Davids was the most unlikely of candidates to beat Rep. Kevin Yoder. But that was before Yoder was body-snatched by President Donald J. Trump.
To really grasp how that alliance had morphed two men into almost one big Trump, consider Yoder’s answer to the final question in the only debate held between the two candidates: Asked which area of government Yoder thinks should take the biggest cut, his answer was the Environmental Protection Agency. That budget had already been cut by a third, and the EPA’s role in combating climate change had been reduced to almost nothing. Yet Yoder clung to the Trump agenda, even though he knew he was losing moderate Republican voters who were switching to Davids. His answer baffled me, as it did Davids.
The Trump-Yoder axis went much deeper than that one answer. It included voting to repeal Obamacare several times and joining forces to fund the border wall. It went deep enough that Davids saw no reason to talk much or appear often throughout the campaign. Instead, she would spend millions of dollars on ads attacking Yoder and the Trump agenda, including health care, but mostly just linking the two together.
The result was almost astounding. Not only did Davids carry the district by nine percentage points, including Johnson, Wyandotte and a sliver of Miami counties. But more astounding, Davids, a Democrat, dominated Yoder in Republican Johnson County alone with 52 percent. That means there was a historic wave of Republicans and independents in Johnson County who fled to the Democratic candidate.
It is true that Hillary Clinton carried the 3rd District against Trump in 2016 by a single point. But that was a narrow victory. This was a shellacking. And we know why. As the midterm election drew closer, each poll indicated Trump’s unpopularity was growing in the district, while Yoder’s popularity, as expected, was shrinking.
Trump was not only unpopular. He also had strong disapproval ratings. In short, he was detested by Democrats, independents and even a large swath of moderate Republicans. This suburban meltdown, where a formerly red community was turning bluish, was happening throughout the country. But our suburbs were the poster child.
Much the same phenomenon was happening at the state level, where Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly trounced her opponent, Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, in the race for governor. Statewide, she beat Kobach 48-43 percent.
But look at what happened in Johnson County. There, Kelly trounced Kobach, 55-38 percent. In other words, Johnson County carried Kelly to a comfortable rout.
It is unfortunate that the down-ballot Democratic voting swept away some outstanding Republican legislators such as state Rep. Melissa Rooker of Fairway, an extraordinary leader who lost to a virtually unknown Democrat. Johnson County’s 25-member legislative delegation now includes 10 Democrats. Not long ago, Democrats were awfully scarce in the group.
The question now is: Will Davids be a one-term wonder? After all, I am the first to admit that little is known about her political philosophy. If she is too far left, it will be goodbye Sharice in the next election in two years. We’ll know that only after she has cast some critical votes and made her voice heard on key issues.
All we know for now is that she represents a shift from the agenda of Trump and Yoder. Davids was part of a blue wave in the House. Her unique background and the trouncing of a bright, up-and-coming Republican leader combined to make this race one of the marquee elections anywhere in America.