Democrat Paul Davis has decided to explore a bid for Congress instead of running again for governor, leaving former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer as the sole Democratic gubernatorial candidate for now.
Davis had been widely discussed as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2018 after an unsuccessful attempt to oust Gov. Sam Brownback in 2014.
But he is considering a run in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District in northeast Kansas, he told The Wichita Eagle on Thursday. Republican Lynn Jenkins holds the seat but has said she will not seek re-election.
“As I’ve looked at where I can make a difference and where my passion lies, I’ve come to the conclusion that what’s going on in Washington, D.C. – I think we need good people in Congress who are going to be problem solvers, can unite Democrats and Republicans, who are going to be working for their constituents and not the special interests in Washington,” said Davis, an attorney who lives in Lawrence.
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He said he will spend the next two months traveling the district. He expects to make a formal announcement in the summer.
Davis said he remains concerned about the Statehouse but that he also has been following federal developments.
His decision to run for Congress means that Democrats don’t have a contested primary for governor at this point. The party typically coalesces around a single candidate and has not had a competitive primary since 1998.
Davis’ decision to run for Congress makes the 2018 campaign for governor a wide-open race for Republicans and Democrats, said KU political science professor Burdett Loomis.
He said he did not think Brewer would have “broad statewide appeal.”
Even though Davis lost to Brownback in 2014, Loomis said, people appreciated his campaign.
“I think what 2014 earned for Paul was the right to choose,” Loomis said about Davis deciding to either run for governor again or run for Congress.
Davis suggested more candidates will soon join the governor’s race.
“I’m sure that we will have maybe several very good people who are going to come forward. I certainly understand that I think a number of people were waiting to see where I was heading and I think you’ll probably see some candidates that are going to emerge here in the next weeks or several months,” he said.
Brewer called Davis a “good man,” but didn’t say whether he expects more Democrats to join the race.
“I haven’t even explored that. My focus is going out and connecting with individuals in every corner in Kansas,” Brewer said.
It’s unclear whether another Democrat will jump in. One talked-about possibility is former secretary of agriculture and state representative Josh Svaty.
On the Republican side, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman has announced a bid for governor and entrepreneur Ed O’Malley is exploring a run. Several other Republican officials are also weighing bids, including Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder.
Democrats look ahead
Davis’ announcement comes the same week that Democrat James Thompson lost to Republican Ron Estes by 7 percentage points in the 4th Congressional District special election. The lower-than-expected margin cheered Kansas Democrats, who are now looking ahead to 2018.
“I think the Republicans at the national level have gone too extreme for most of these moderates in Kansas and I think Paul will benefit from that,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.
“I think you can see that in the race in Wichita. That should not have been close.”
Davis is the first Democrat to enter the race for the 2nd District. Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth, has announced his candidacy on the Republican side.
Fitzgerald said he had expected Davis to run for governor, not for Congress.
“I have always thought this would be an extremely hard-fought campaign,” Fitzgerald said. “The Democrats are, as we saw in Wichita, they’re out to basically I think try to save their party from obliteration.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee called Davis a career politician. “Republicans will make sure Davis is held accountable for all of his past actions that are out of step with Kansas values,” said spokesman Jack Pandol.
A ‘safer gamble’
Davis was the House Democratic leader before he gave up the seat to run for governor. He is running for Congress as a private citizen, having been out of office for more than two years.
That has allowed him to avoid some of the most bruising recent political conflicts at the Statehouse. He wasn’t around for the weeks-long gridlock in 2015 that produced the longest legislative session in state history – and he is not a part of the current effort to close the state’s budget shortfall.
The 2018 election will come at the midpoint of President Donald Trump’s term. The president’s political party tends to lose seats in the midterm elections, said Patrick Miller, a political science professor at the University of Kansas.
“The House seat may be a safer gamble,” Miller said.
Contributing: Bryan Lowry of the Kansas City Star