According to polls, Democrat Jay Sidie is surging and Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder is surprisingly struggling in the race for the 3rd District seat representing Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
That’s great to hear. Sidie is a financial counselor and businessman, not an experienced politician. He didn’t exactly trounce the rest of the field in the Democratic primary. But he is also the kind of change agent voters in primarily Johnson and Wyandotte counties need to send to the nation’s capital in 2016, especially given the disappointing six years the glib Yoder has spent there.
When President Barack Obama endorsed Sidie on Monday, he pointed in part to his opposition to changing Social Security and Medicare programs. “Jay Sidie is the kind of tough and smart leader who will build on all we’ve accomplished and take our nation forward,” Obama said.
Sidie also supports Wall Street reform, while Yoder cozies up to the industry that almost sent America into a Depression. Sidie decries the shameful payday loan business that takes advantage of people with sky-high interest rates while Yoder has taken contributions from the industry.
Yes, Sidie is a typical Democrat and that normally would not play well in Republican-dominated Johnson County (although voters in Democrat-rich Wyandotte County will embrace him). And to be very clear, Sidie is still the underdog here.
Yoder’s continued support for loathsome GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump will irritate many well-educated GOP voters in suburban Johnson County.
Meanwhile, the spirited battles for Kansas Legislature seats in Johnson County will draw lots of Democratic and moderate Republican voters to the polls. These voters are working hard to get rid of Gov. Sam Brownback’s ultra-conservative allies in the Legislature.
Sidie has gone out of his way to tie Yoder to Brownback’s failed policies in Kansas, which could help attract some votes to the challenger. True, this tactic is a bit of a stretch, given the disconnect between most state and federal policies. But give Sidie credit for realizing some of Yoder’s actions as a former state legislator will prove in the minds of some voters that he was a conservative precursor to Brownback.
Yoder was not supposed to be vulnerable like this. Just months ago he was sitting on a fat, multi-million-dollar campaign war chest, ready to roll to his fourth term while hardly breaking a sweat.
But in recent weeks, big money has poured into the campaign. The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it would spend up to $1 million on ads for Sidie. The Conservative Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, committed to funneling $800,000 to help create a “firewall” for Yoder. That was something most political observers did not predict would be needed.
Sidie says Yoder is “just a professional politician,” given that he’s been in elected office the last 14 years and is just 40. It’s an accurate shot.
More notably, Yoder simply hasn’t been the kind of bipartisan-loving guy he promised to be in his first race for Congress in 2010, when he defeated Democrat Stephene Moore, wife of former 3rd District Rep. Dennis Moore. That was back when The Star endorsed him partly because he was “quick-witted and thoughtful.” Turns out, his wit remains but his thoughtfulness turned out to be way too partisan.
KU political science professor Patrick Miller looked at all of Kansas’ members of Congress over the last 25 years and found Yoder was the second most conservative on an ideology ranking. Miller wrote on Twitter Monday that “Yoder’s DC voting record is much more like Ted Cruz (.88) than Bob Dole (.29).”
And while Yoder isn’t the most conservative member of Congress, he shows up as a staunch supporter of groups such as the National Right to Life Committee, Club for Growth and the Family Research Council.
Yoder several years ago told me he was in-step with the people of Johnson County, who had turned more conservative over time. He introduced me to one of his constituent services aides; Yoder does get high marks for that service, which actually is rather important in this day and age of gridlock in Washington.
But being able to do that one thing well is not enough.
It’s certainly accurate that people outside of the northeast part of the county embraced a lot of ultra-conservative Kansas lawmakers in the 2012 and 2014 elections. But voters flipped the switch on that stance in the 2016 primaries, ousting about a half-dozen GOP ultra-cons. More could be shown the door in November.
If Yoder is pushed out the door too, it would not be a great loss for the county.