Heather Hollingsworth and John Hanna
MISSION, Kan. — Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, held on to her Kansas City-area congressional seat in Tuesday’s election, overcoming Republican attacks over crime and the economy and new GOP-drawn boundaries designed to make her district harder for her to win.
Davids, the only Democrat representing the state in Congress, defeated Republican challenger Amanda Adkins in a rematch of their 2020 race for the 3rd District seat. Like other GOP candidates, Adkins focused on high inflation and other pocketbook issues, trying to link the Democratic incumbent to President Joe Biden. While Davids highlighted federal funding for local projects and efforts to lower prescription drug costs, she and fellow Democrats aggressively attacked Adkins on abortion. Adkins supported a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution that voters statewide decisively rejected in August, while Davids opposed it.
“When we had people calling our elections into question, we stood firm in defense of our democracy. When they were trying to take away our rights and put women and families in danger, we voted no,” Davids told supporters Tuesday night. “And when they sought to divide us, we came together.” For Kansas City-area retirees Elizabeth and Dave White, both in their 60s, preserving access to abortion was a crucial issue and both voted for Davids.
“I don’t believe other people should make decisions on a person’s body, whether you’re male or female,” Elizabeth Gilbert said.
(Related: ICT's #NativeVote2022 coverage)
Davids was the first lesbian Native American in Congress and is a lawyer and former mixed martial arts fighter. She ousted four-term GOP incumbent Kevin Yoder in the 2018 midterm as suburban voters turned against then-President Donald Trump. Her measured persona has frustrated GOP efforts to portray her as a radical liberal.
Adkins is a former executive with health care technology’s Cerner Corp. and a former Kansas Republican Party chair.
“Regardless of what happens tonight,” Adkins told supporters as she conceded, “we have real problems in this country that remain unsolved. They remain unsolved and those of us who are believers, those of us who build and seek to solve problems in our country have to carry forward.”
The key to their race was the Kansas City suburbs in Johnson County, the state’s most populous county. The county leans Republican in voter registration, but Davids carried it in 2020. Adkins was hoping to win back independent and moderate Republicans there upset over the economy.
Two retired Kansas City-area Catholic school teachers in their 70s, Jim and Eladia Gilbert, voted for Adkins. They strongly oppose abortion, side with conservative parents over what’s taught about sexuality and race in classrooms and see the U.S. border with Mexico as too open. But the economy was a key concern.
“We are watching our 401(k)s just go down the drain,” Jim Gilbert said.
The Republican-controlled state Legislature redrew congressional districts earlier this year to rebalance their populations after a decade of shifts and split the Kansas City, Kansas, area. Davids’ district lost areas where she’s performed best and picked up heavily Republican areas in three northeastern Kansas counties.
Had the new lines been in place in 2020, both Davids’ and Biden’s 10-point margins of victory would have been cut in half. And Republicans counted on economic issues helping them bridge the gap this year.
But Democrats were energized by the state abortion vote in August. Adkins said abortion should be settled by the states and that she wouldn’t support a federal abortion law. Adkins has not been specific about how far she thinks an abortion law should go in Kansas, which bans most abortions at the 22nd week, but said that she would favor any new, incremental state measures that would reduce the number of abortions.
Even with the 3rd District’s new, more Republican leanings, 67.5 percent of its voters opposed the anti-abortion measure in August.
The state’s three other incumbent U.S. House members, all Republicans, also won reelection. They are Tracey Mann, in a 1st District redrawn so that it includes the liberal northeastern Kansas community of Lawrence along with rural central and western Kansas; Jake LaTurner, in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, and Ron Estes in the 4th District in the Wichita area.