With Steve Watkins victory in Kansas’s 2nd District GOP primary, Democratic nominee Paul Davis, who ran unchallenged, must be thinking, “Now what?” If he has an advantage, many Republicans in the district have to be thinking much the same thing.
In a crowded field, Watkins held off his closest challenger, Sen. Caryn Tyson, by a 26 percent to 23 percent margin. Rep. Kevin Jones took 16 percent of the vote and Sen. Steve Fitzgerald 12. To win, Watkins had to overcome the perception that he was not really a Republican.
As the Sentinel and other publications reported, Watkins had met with three Democratic organizers before choosing to run as a Republican. The Davis camp would surely have preferred to face a hard line conservative and sell the soft core moderation that is the hallmark of Kansas Democrats, but Watkins presents a target less easily defined.
Watkins’s challenge is to convince Republicans he is for real. During the primary, he succeeded in convincing enough Republicans to win.
As Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal noted, “Watkins effectively positioned himself as a President Donald Trump loyalist, a veteran and political outsider.” Watkins’s father, a wealthy physician, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to solidify this position through TV commercials.
National Democrats have to be dismayed by the outcome. They were expecting to face an underfunded Republican conservative like Tyson or Fitzgerald without statewide name recognition. Now they face someone who is young, fresh, well-funded, and politically ambiguous.
During his victory speech on Tuesday, Watkins referred to retiring U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins as one of his political heroes. Had she not retired, Jenkins could have held the seat as long as she chose. Watkins is obviously hoping some of her mojo rubs off on him.
In 2014, when he ran for governor against Sam Brownback, the media convinced Davis he would be the next governor. Now, they are trying to convince him he will be the next 2nd District Congressman. With Steve Watkins as challenger, Davis may be denied the prize once again.