Kansas Democrat Paul Davis announces congressional bid

Lawrence Democrat Paul Davis, a former candidate for Kansas governor, officially announced Tuesday that he would seek the 2nd District congressional seat.
Lawrence Democrat Paul Davis, a former candidate for Kansas governor, officially announced Tuesday that he would seek the 2nd District congressional seat. The Kansas City Star

The man who many thought could make another run for Kansas governor is officially running for Congress instead.

Democrat Paul Davis announced his entrance into the race for the 2nd District congressional seat Tuesday. If elected, he said, he does not plan to vote for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the current House Democratic leader and former speaker of the U.S. House when Democrats last held the majority.

“This is a broken Congress right now, and I think the leaders of both political parties bear responsibility for that,” Davis said. “And I think that we need new leadership in both political parties.”

On the Republican side, state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican and Army veteran, started his campaign with a speech in Topeka earlier this summer. Vernon J. Fields, a Basehor city councilman, is also in the race.

“If they do not take back the House of Representatives, then I think the Democratic party is going to be even more irrelevant than it is today,” Fitzgerald said. “I think they understand that.”

Davis, a Lawrence resident, served in the Kansas Legislature as House minority leader before losing to Gov. Sam Brownback in the 2014 governor’s race. He was seen as a possible candidate for the 2018 governor’s race before signaling he would run for the U.S. House instead.

Davis lamented economic issues during his kickoff speech and criticized the recent debate over healthcare and the political gridlock in Washington, D.C.

“We can’t expect Kansas’ common sense to make its way to Washington through word of mouth,” Davis said. “We have to send it there.”

The 2nd District includes both Lawrence and Topeka. Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins announced earlier this year that she would not run for re-election, creating an opening in the U.S. House as Democrats try to win back control and Republicans try to maintain their majority.

Fields said safety and security would be “a huge piece” of his campaign. He also said he believes President Donald Trump “is going to do great things,” and he fully supports the agenda.

Fitzgerald has been one of the most conservative Republicans in the Kansas Senate and was a steadfast opponent to the rollback of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts earlier this year.

The outspoken Republican emphasized national security and the economy as key issues for Congress.

“If the people are secure and the country’s prosperous, then I think we’re in a good position to address all the other issues that will come to the floor as we go forward,” Fitzgerald said.

Asked what he sees as a defining issue of the campaign, Davis said, “It’s really who’s going to change the culture of Washington, D.C.”

“Are we going to have somebody who is a problem solver who is willing to go across the aisle and engage Republicans and really tackle the problems that I think people want to see us tackle?” Davis said. “Or are we going to have somebody who’s just going to be there with a bullhorn, providing more noise in a political environment that just doesn’t need any more of that?”

The candidates likely will have to contend with voters’ reaction to Trump’s presidency as he approaches the midpoint of his term.

Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, said the question for this mid-term is if there will be a Trump backlash.

“We don’t know for sure yet,” he said. “And of course Davis would benefit from a Trump backlash.”

Davis said Tuesday he thought “a lot of Americans right now are turning on their TVs everyday and shaking their heads when they see the comments that are coming out of the president and the White House.”

“But he was elected president,” Davis said. “And if I’m successful in this campaign, I will work with him. But I’m also going to call him out when I think it’s necessary.”

During his campaign announcement last month, Fitzgerald said his vision for the next Congress “is the rapid accomplishment of that agenda that President Trump brought to us and we approved in the last election — a strong, free and prosperous America.”

Fitzgerald said he expects the race “to be a very hard fight.”

“This is not going to be a cakewalk on either side,” he said.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw