Sharice Davids is in the middle of suburban Kansas

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Toward the end of the first televised debate between Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and challenger Amanda Adkins, a small sliver of agreement appeared to emerge between the two sides: one that gives Medicare the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices. it was a good idea.

Adkins, a former chief executive of health information company Oracle Cerner, was asked about the Joe Biden idea she most supported, and she called the drug negotiations “one area where we can come together. Davids, who is running for her third term, also cited the idea as her favorite Biden policy.

A day later, however, the Republican candidate partially withdrew his support. And Davids accused her of being deceitful about supporting the idea.

This kind of back-and-forth over what constitutes moderate politics and which candidate is more moderate has been central to the race to represent this congressional district on the Kansas side of suburban Kansas City. The heart of Johnson County is a seemingly endless maze of four-lane highways, tidy homes on shady, tree-lined cul-de-sacs, and strip malls with plenty of free parking.

It’s a district that Davids supporters say is increasingly purple, reflecting its upper-middle-class population and one that wants non-ideological, pragmatic solutions to problems. The soft-spoken Davids would seem perfect in some ways, playing up a two-pronged approach to governance.

But maybe not this year. The district was redrawn, with one state lawmaker saying outright that the goal was to ensure there were no Democratic House members from the state. Republicans appear to have regained some of their political momentum before Dobbs’ decision. And Davids faces a rematch with her 2020 opponent. If Democrats can hold Kansas’ 3rd District, it could mean they can hold other, similar districts across the country. However, if they lose her, it could mean a long night for them.

Amanda Adkins, a Republican candidate in Kansas' third congressional district, said she worries that giving Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices will lead to less drug innovation.
Amanda Adkins, a Republican candidate in Kansas’ third congressional district, said she worries that giving Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices will lead to less drug innovation.

Molly Ramsay, a 64-year-old retired printer who attended Davids’ early opening rally Saturday, told HuffPost Davids has done well for Johnson County.

“We had a Republican candidate for years and she beat him and it was just a breath of fresh air. Because I believe Johnson County is becoming much more of a purple county,” she said.

“Did they talk about Kansas being so red?” Johnson County is pretty purple.”

Supporting that message was the victory in August’s statewide referendum on whether to limit abortion rights, where almost 60% of the vote because the “no” position surprised experts with both the result and the margin.

It was a lesson not lost on Davids’ campaign, which hopes to repeat its success in November. And it will be necessary, given the new contours of her district. Redistricting saw her lose part of heavily Democratic Wyandotte County and gain two more rural counties south of Kansas City. It went from a district where Biden won by nearly 11 points in 2020 to one where he would win by just 4.5 points. according to Daily Kos data.

And that was on purpose. While the redistricting process went through a series of steps before it was settled by the state’s highest court, it began when then-Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle said lawmakers could draw a map that would to ensure a nationwide delegation of the Chamber.

“I guarantee you we can draw four Republican district maps,” she said.

Despite this, the race has been categorized as a toss-up or lean Democratic for some time. The Cook Political Report moved it from the category of “shifting” to “lean democracy” on Tuesday. And The New York Times reported Thursday that a recent survey showed that Davids with a 14-point lead.

“I guarantee you we can draw four Republican district maps.

– Former Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle

In some ways, however, Davids seemed an unlikely contender for the district, even before redistricting brought two rural counties into the mix. She is one of the first two Native American women to be elected to the House, a former MMA fighter, and gay.

“I think people are happy for people to see that Kansas doesn’t have to be the place you think it is,” she told HuffPost in an interview.

“We have a lot more diversity here than people think. We have a lot more open-minded people here than people think,” Davids said.

Adkins said she is running again not because of redistricting, which was only completed this spring, but because of how Biden’s term has gone so far.

“I knew things were going to happen that I didn’t agree with, but I never imagined we would be where we are today,” she told HuffPost, referring to inflation and the likelihood of a recession.

Adkins also describes herself as a “solution-focused and business leader,” reflecting the district’s pragmatic and healthy leanings.

Both candidates try to attach the other to unpopular characters to convince voters that they are not a good fit for them. For Adkins, it puts Biden and Davids’ willingness to vote with him at 100%, a figure Davids says is based on a small sample of recorded votes.

Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) sought to connect her opponent, Amanda Adkins, with former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, whose popularity has plummeted after the state ran into budget trouble.
Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) sought to connect her opponent, Amanda Adkins, with former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, whose popularity has plummeted after the state ran into budget trouble.

Wichita Eagle via Getty Images

For Davids, the political albatross he’s trying to hang around Adkins’ neck is former Kansas governor and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, who was elected governor while Adkins led the state’s GOP and later appointed Adkins to head a state board that reviews children’s programs and funding. Adkins notes that she was not paid by the state of Kansas and was not part of the Brownback administration.

“Sam Brownback has done so much damage to this state in terms of decimating our public education funding. There were times when some of our public school systems had to go down to four days a week and our credit rating was downgraded,” Davids said.

“Her attempt to kind of distance herself from some of those things is very clear,” she said.

The Davids campaign quickly jumped on Adkins’ comments about Medicare drug negotiations on the night of the debate, issuing a “fact check” that pointed out that Adkins supports the fiscal 2022 budget proposed by the Republican Study Committee, the largest in-house group in the House of Representatives.

The RSC budget opposed “efforts to index drug prices or impose any price controls on drugs”.

But Adkins herself was quick to say the day after the debate that she didn’t mean to sound laudatory of the idea.

“The federal government, as a payer when it comes to Medicare, can and should negotiate drug prices to get the best price for drugs,” she said. But Adkins said she worries that would mean less research, a line the drug industry has pushed against the idea.

“We are capitalists in this country and we have a free market system in health care, and we don’t want to discourage innovation when it comes to the future of life-saving drugs,” she said.

Signs opposing Kansas' Aug. 2 vote on whether to limit abortion rights are posted outside Kansas Highway 10 in Lenexa, Kansas.
Signs opposing Kansas’ Aug. 2 vote on whether to limit abortion rights are posted outside Kansas Highway 10 in Lenexa, Kansas.

Kyle Rivas via Getty Images

While rural counties are likely to help Adkins, both candidates held events within a mile and a half of each other in Johnson County on the first day of early voting, underscoring its importance. Whose voters show up will go a long way toward determining who wins.

Jim Hissong, a 75-year-old semi-retired insurance salesman, held a closed-door “Ask Amanda” event for supporters at his home. He then said his big issues are immigration and the economy.

“I have 16 grandchildren and I’m getting really worried about their future with what’s going on, I don’t know how else to put it,” he said.

Stephen Nachtsheim, a 24-year-old college student studying biomedical communications, said he wasn’t really “super invested” in either party, but cast his first votes for Davids and other Democrats.

“I know that socially I’ve had friends who have had abortions and who are gay or transgender, and I think that while I don’t believe that either side is doing everything that I think should be done, I think that the Democrats they are more in line with what I want to do in terms of personal freedom and liberty,” he said.

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