Newcomer Watkins wins House seat in eastern Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans held onto an eastern Kansas congressional seat Tuesday they had been in danger of losing because of questions about their novice candidate’s public statements.

Steve Watkins defeated Democrat Paul Davis in the 2nd District and will replace retiring five-term GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins.

Davis was better known as a former Kansas House minority leader and he had carried the district in an unsuccessful run for governor in 2014.

But the district leans Republican: Trump carried it by nearly 17 percentage points in 2016, and Watkins had the president’s endorsement.

Watkins, a former Army officer and government contractor, emerged from a bruising seven-person primary that saw one opponent label him a “fraud” and some local leaders question his commitment to the Republican Party.

Watkins told his supporters that he would work to bring conservative values and military leadership to Congress.

“You took a leap of faith in me,” he said. “I won’t let you down.”

He told WIBW-TV in a short interview that he will focus on immigration and economic issues.

Davis conceded defeat in the race and told a Lawrence crowd that he is done seeking public office. Davis said he called Watkins and congratulated him on his victory.

“He has served our country and I wish him well,” Davis said in remarks at the Douglas County watch party for the Democratic Party in downtown Lawrence.

Topeka voter Tuffy Radford, a 37-year-old Republican, said he voted for Watkins because was confident enough about the economy earlier this year to start his own tile-setting business after struggling to find work a few years ago.

“I need to keep the economy going in my direction,” he said. “The economy’s booming.”

Watkins himself emerged as an issue despite his attractive profile as a political outsider and a West Point graduate who served in Afghanistan and then worked there, in Iraq and in Central Asia as a government contractor. He’s run the famed Iditarod dog sled race twice in Alaska and attempted to scale Mount Everest in 2015.

But he was caught exaggerating his role in a small business in the Middle East and removed a quote about his “heroic leadership” during the Mount Everest expedition attributed to his guide, after the guide told The Associated Press that he’d never said it.

Even before, Republican critics noted that the Topeka native had spent most of his adult life living outside Kansas and had not voted in the state until a municipal election in November 2017, after he’d decided to run for Congress.

Also, Watkins’ father, a Topeka physician, was heavily involved in the race as the almost-exclusive source of funding for a political action committee, Kansans Can Do Anything, boosting his son’s candidacy. The elder Watkins contributed more than $765,000 to the PAC.

One former GOP foe, ex-state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, called him “a charlatan, a fraud and an opportunist,” days before the August primary, though he later wouldn’t criticize Watkins. Some GOP leaders also were wary of him after three Democrats said publicly that he met with them last year about running as a Democrat — something he strongly disputed.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter: .


For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections:

Associated Press

Associated Press

More News

Rice Lake
New Richmond
Black River Falls
River Falls
Green Bay
La Crosse
Twin Cities
Weather Outlook: Snow tonight, but decent conditions return for hunting this weekend

Weather Outlook: Snow tonight, but decent conditions return for hunting this weekend

Fresh snow ahead for hunters heading into the woods Saturday.

Connect With WQOW
Top Stories

Sex offender faces new charges in Eau Claire

A convicted sex offender living in Eau Claire is charged with two counts of first degree sexual assault of a

UPDATE: Middleton shooter was employee of business where he opened fire

The Middlelton Police department sent a phone message to residents about an active shooter.

UPDATE: 4 from Loyal, including 3 kids, killed in Apostle Island kayak incident

Sheriff Michael Brennan said Erik Fryman, 39, and his kids 3, 6 and 9-years-old died. The mom, Cari Mews, 29,

NEW: Missing Mondovi man found dead Wednesday afternoon

According to Mondovi Police Chief Colin Severson, the department is looking or Nathan D. Kummer who was reported missing by

UPDATE: Gas leak contained in Boyd

Boyd's fire chief told News 18 crews were digging up a leaking water line at Double D's Saloon and workers

Scroll to top
Skip to content