Kansas Republicans face an uphill battle in their effort to oust the lone Democrat representing their state in Congress.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has targeted Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), who in 2022 handily won reelection to Kansas’s 3rd Congressional District, which represents most of Kansas City and some of its suburbs. Several Republicans have already jumped into the race for the party’s nomination.
But in an area of the state where abortion has proven to be an albatross for Republicans, some in the party see the district as a long shot.
“It’s a sacrificial lamb situation, in my opinion,” Stephanie Sharp, a former Kansas Republican consultant, said to The Hill about the GOP primary.
Democrats have seen success with the issue of abortion in Kansas, just as they have in other red states like Kentucky and Ohio. A majority of voters in the Sunflower State opposed an anti-reproductive rights referendum last year in what has come to be seen as a harbinger of the GOP’s disappointing performance in the midterms.
“A smart Republican will not let the word abortion come out of their mouth right now,” said Patrick Miller, a political science professor at Kansas University. “The anti-abortion rights position is not popular in suburbia.”
In a sign of the issue’s effectiveness for Democrats, Davids is making abortion one of the central components of her platform heading into next year. Her campaign manager, Mohona Chowdhury, said the candidate would challenge her Republican opponents over their abortion stances, according to KCUR.
But Republicans are seeking to paint Davids as too extreme on the issue.
“I think there’s a danger in elevating an issue where the Kansas Democratic Party is so far out of the mainstream,” said David Kensinger, a veteran GOP Kansas strategist.
Two of the GOP candidates who have entered the race, Prasanth Reddy and Karen Crnkovich, have publicly declared they support abortion restrictions, albeit with exceptions for special circumstances like rape, incest and in order to preserve the mother’s health.
Crnkovich’s website notes that “children who survive a failed abortion should not simply be cast aside and left to die” — a likely reference to a bill passed by the House this year that proposes penalties for health care providers who don’t provide life-saving care to infants who survive abortion. Davids, along with most other House Democrats, voted against it.
The Kansas legislature introduced its own version of the act, and while Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed it, the Republican-controlled body was able to successfully override the veto and enact the legislation in April.
Kensinger said the state-passed bill will be a prevalent topic in this race, arguing that the Democratic Party’s position on the issue is “a radical place to be.”
Others Republicans agree.
Reddy’s campaign manager James Shook said in a statement to The Hill that they would keep “prosecuting the case against Sharice Davids’ years of inaction and rubber stamping extremism on the left.”
NRCC spokeswoman Delanie Bomar told The Hill that Davids is “tone deaf” to her constituents and that she “bills herself as a so-called ‘moderate’ but votes like an extremist in DC.”
Yet Sharp, the former Republican state legislator, argued that the issue could ultimately help Davids.
“Nobody would have ever thought that that would be an issue that you should talk about, let alone highlight, in the state of Kansas, but it obviously worked for her,” she said about Davids’s abortion discourse during past campaigns. “I think the Democrats can still use that issue.”
Davids became the first Democrat to represent a Kansas congressional district in a decade when she defeated Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder during the “blue wave” of 2018. She is one of the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress along with former Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), and is also the first openly LGBTQ Native American woman elected to Congress.
Her political strength is notable given the general makeup of her district, where the number of Republicans dwarf the number of Democrats. The district voted Republican in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections before flipping to President Biden in 2020.
Davids has easily held on to the seat since 2018, despite the state Legislature redrawing her district in 2022 to favor Republicans by severing the district’s only county with a Democratic majority into different zones.
Kansas Democratic Party Chair Jeanna Repass affirmed faith in Davids’s reelection campaign in a statement to The Hill.
Davids “has built a strong operation in Kansas and in Washington to serve her constituents and deliver results for the Third District,” Repass said.
In addition to the challenge of navigating the abortion issue, Republicans also face the hurdle of low name recognition.
“None of them have name ID,” Sharp said of Crnkovich, Reddy, and Jonathon Westbrook, who has registered with the Federal Election Commission but has not yet announced. “None of them have been actively involved in politics in this area.”
Reddy has developed the most momentum in the primary, raking in more than $100,000 the day he announced his campaign.
Crnkovich, for her part, dismissed any concerns over fundraising.
“I’m focused not just on raising money but also on building a strong, strategic ground game,” she said in a statement to The Hill. “KS03 voters want someone who will work to earn their vote — not someone who thinks they are entitled to it because of the size of their checkbook.”
Davids, meanwhile, has swamped her Republican challengers in the money race.
“The threshold question is going to be who can put together the resources,” said Kensinger, the GOP strategist, when asked about the potential winner of his party’s primary.
Though Westbrook, the Republican candidate who has yet to announce, has not raked in much money, he is the only other candidate with political experience.
Westbrook is the treasurer for the Kansas Black Republican Council. He also served as a White House fellow during the Trump administration.
“They’ve each got some unique lane there for fundraising,” Kensinger said of the GOP field.
But all of the candidates face a steep climb to unseating Davids.
Sharp noted that while the race may reset, the candidates “really need to start making waves now” in order to raise enough funding.
She also did not seem confident that the GOP would be able to turn this election around in a year’s time.
“I have a lot of frustration with our party and have had for 20 years,” she said.