The last time Lawrence attorney Paul Davis ran for elected office he broke a lot of his supporters’ hearts and tarnished more than a few pollsters’ reputations. On Election Day morning in 2014, famed pollster Nate Silver’s forecasting site, FiveThirtyEight, gave Davis an 80 percent chance of defeating Sam Brownback in the race for governor. Davis supporters were feeling confident. In 2010, Silver correctly predicted the
winners of 36 of 37 governors’ races.
As history records, Davis lost, and it wasn’t all that close. Brownback carried the state by a 50 to 46 percent margin with the Libertarian candidate picking up the other 4 percent. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said at the time that Davis “tried to run as ‘I’m not Sam Brownback.’ And in the end, that just isn’t enough for people.”
Davis will launch his candidacy for the Second District congressional seat with a tour of that Northeast Kansas district. His challenge in 2018 is determining what he will run as. If Nancy Pelosi remains in power as House minority leader, Davis can expect that the Republicans will present him as Pelosi’s newest spear carrier. Davis will have to work against that image.
Another challenge for Davis is determining what or whom he will run against. The most serious declared candidate on the Republican side, state Senator Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth, did not hesitate to align himself with President Trump. Fitzgerald shocked the local media when he announced his candidacy last month by declaring, “My vision for the next Congress is the rapid accomplishment of that agenda that President Trump brought to us and we approved in the last election — a strong, free and prosperous America.”
The media ought not to have been shocked. In the 2016 election Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2nd District by 18 points. In 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama in that same district by only 13 points. Davis supporters take heart from the fact that he carried that district by over six points in 2014, but, as Davis must suspect, running against Trump will be a much trickier proposition than running against Brownback. If he learned anything in 2014, it should be ‘don’t believe the polls.’