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Health Care Fears Have Kansas Voters Riled Up

In Kansas, the politics of health care may be the dominant factor in determining if the historically red state will turn a shade of blue on Nov. 6.

(CN) – In Kansas, the politics of health care may be the dominant factor in determining if the historically red state will turn a shade of blue on Nov. 6.

Democrats have seemingly found a foothold in the Sunflower State thanks to a combination of disapproval of President Donald Trump and concerns that Republicans in Congress will allow insurers to increase premiums on people with pre-existing medical conditions.

The Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take over the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. Places like the Kansas 3rd Congressional District could be key to seeing the House flip.

3rd Congressional District

In the 3rd Congressional District race, Democrat Sharice Davids leads incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder in recent polls, and political analysis website FiveThirtyEight gives her a 77 percent chance of winning the seat.

The more moderate 3rd District includes Johnson County, the wealthiest and most educated county in the state, where 55 percent of residents have at least a bachelor's degree. It's one of the few Kansas districts Hillary Clinton won in her 2016 presidential run.

Yoder, a former lawyer who is running for his fifth term will face off against Davids, an attorney and former mixed martial arts fighter.

The GOP has seemingly lost faith in Yoder's ability to win re-election. The National Republican Congressional Committee withdrew $1.2 million in campaign funding for the incumbent in early October.

Yoder, however, still has the backing of The Congressional Leadership Fund, the largest conservative super PAC in the country. The group has spent nearly $2.5 million in local TV advertising.

Democrats in Kansas and across the country have campaigned on health care, focusing on the Republicans' efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Yoder has voted multiple times to repeal the ACA though he says he wants to keep the provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions. He's a co-sponsor of the Pre-Existing Conditions Protection Act, a bill that requires insurers to accept patients if the ACA is repealed.

At a campaign stop on Monday in Kansas City, Davids criticized Yoder’s voting record.

"When I think about what health care and access to health care means, it has to mean that we protect folks with pre-existing conditions," Davids said.

Kathleen Sebilius, former Kansas governor and Health and Human Services secretary, joined Davids at the stop. She noted Yoder voted 50 times to repeal the ACA.

"It’s incredibly important that people be educated and not buy the line from politicians who try and say 'My record is not my record. My votes are not my votes. 'Believe me. I will always protect your care,’” Sebilius said. “Nothing could be further from the truth."

Connie Graves, a 72-year-old retiree, said although she voted for Yoder in the past, she's decided to vote for Davids this time due to his stance on health care.

"There's a lot not to like about Obamacare, but it seems he wants to throw out the baby with the bath water," Graves said of Yoder.

Low turnout is not expected to be a problem in Johnson County. According to the county's election office, a record-breaking 416,000 people are registered to vote, though Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker says he predicts about 200,000 will show up on Election Day.


The number of registered Democrats increased from 96,817 in October 2016 to 111,189 now. Registered Republicans increased from 181,963 to 186,224 in the same time period.

Metsker said the county won't have a repeat of this year's primary elections when software failures delayed the vote count, bringing national attention to a local issue.

If Davids wins, she would become the first openly gay representative from Kansas and one of the first female Native Americans to serve in the House.

2nd Congressional District

In Kansas' 2nd Congressional District the race is much more competitive, with Democrat Paul Davis running neck-and-neck with Republican Steve Watkins for the House seat vacated by Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins.

Only two public polls have been run for the district. An Emerson College poll from late September showed Davis with a 4-point advantage over Watkins. The other poll from Sienna College/New York Times in mid-September showed Davis only 1 point ahead of Watkins, with FiveThirtyEight giving Davis a slight 50-49 percent advantage.

Davis, an attorney who lost the 2014 gubernatorial race to Sam Brownback by only 3 points, is doing remarkably well for a Democrat running in a district that is overwhelmingly Republican. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the district by 19 points over Hillary Clinton.

Watkins, a political newcomer and engineer, has positioned himself as a Trump supporter. Vice President Mike Pence visited Kansas to campaign for Watkins this month.

“I want to fight for a government that’s more efficient, effective and more accountable,” Watkins said at a debate held last week. “It means you get to keep more of your paycheck. It means that our borders are secure and so are our communities. It means we have access to quality health care.”

Meanwhile, Davis has campaigned as a more moderate candidate, pointing to his experience of working with Republicans in the Kansas House.

“I’ve been there working with Republicans to get things done and get results. Now more than ever, we need people like that in Congress,” Davis said. “I am an American and a Kansan long before I am a Democrat.”

The two have argued over their views on health care. Davis claims Watkins wants to do away with protections for pre-existing conditions, while Watkins says Davis supports a single-payer health care system. Both candidates deny the others' claims.

Gubernatorial race

In the hotly contested race for governor, only one candidate has the backing of nearly every former Republican governor: the Democrat.

In his race against Democrat Laura Kelly and independent businessman Greg Orman, Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach's divisive style of politics has earned him little backing from his fellow Kansas conservatives.

A Public Policy Polling survey released Monday showed Kelly and Kobach in a dead heat at 41 percent each, with Orman in a distant third at 10 percent.

Kobach, a frequent conservative talk show guest who advocates for voting restrictions and strong immigration laws, has found few supporters among moderate Republican leaders.

Former Republican senators like Sheila Frahm and Nancy Kassebaum also support Kelly, despite their party affiliation.

“I’m a Republican, but that doesn’t mean you walk lock-step always with the party,” Kassebaum said.

Kassebaum, daughter of Alf Landon, a former Kansas governor who ran against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election, said she doesn't approve of Kobach's posturing.

“It seems to me that Kobach has developed a record that shows a focus on ways and how to accomplish his end goals that I think are not the best for Kansas,” Kassebaum said.

Kobach, who headed up the now-defunct presidential committee on voter fraud, has support from President Trump. Trump held a rally in Topeka in early October where he promoted Kobach. Both men have made unsubstantiated claims of millions of immigrants voting illegally.

For some Kansas voters, however, endorsements don’t matter.

Travis Hardy, 40, said the economy is most important to him and it's the reason why he's voting for Kobach.

"I don't think he's perfect," Hardy said. "No politician is. But I think he's got the right idea when it comes to taxes and attracting businesses."

Kobach favors reinstating former Gov. Sam Brownback's tax cuts, which lowered tax rates across the board and allowed limited liability corporations and small farms to pay no state income tax.

Those tax cuts were dropped when a new batch of moderate Republicans were elected to the Kansas Legislature in 2016, in an effort to drum up tax revenue after the state missed several of its income targets. Kelly says she doesn't support the return of the tax cuts but would consider lowering sales tax on food.

Whereas Kobach has run on a platform of anti-undocumented immigration and tax cuts, Kelly has run as the education candidate, promising to ensure public education is funded amid a long-standing lawsuit that has seen the Kansas Supreme Court order the Legislature to increase funding to poorer school districts in the state.

Kelly is also using Kobach's ties to Brownback, who left office as one of the most unpopular governors in the country. For his part, Brownback has not endorsed a candidate in the race.

The two candidates differ on gun rights, with Kobach opposing any new restrictions on firearms. Kelly supports giving public universities the right to prohibit guns on campus.

As for abortion, Kobach favors a state constitutional amendment that denies the right to abortions. Kelly is in favor of abortion rights and carries the support of Emily's List, an abortion rights group.

Categories: Politics Regional

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