The district now includes all of Democratic-leaning Douglas County, which could shake up voting results, though it likely won’t equate to a win for Democratic challenger Tobias Schlingensiepen, a political scientist at the University of Kansas said.
“This race is likely to be the most competitive [of Kansas’ congressional elections],” Burdett Loomis, who studies congressional elections at KU, said, adding that the addition of Douglas County will do little to affect the election’s end result. “[Lynn Jenkins] is a Republican in a Republican district in a state that really dislikes Barack Obama. She’s an incumbent, has pretty good name identification and all the conventional things that make most congressional incumbents difficult to defeat.”
Only three days remain until Election Day, leaving both Jenkins’ and Schlingensiepen’s campaigns precious time to rally voters’ support. The tactics to gain such support, however, have varied throughout the candidates’ campaigns.
Schlingensiepen, a pastor from Topeka, consistently has criticized his opponent’s willingness to accept certain campaign contributions. In accepting contributions from big banks, insurance companies and special interest groups, Schlingensiepen said his competitor will be indebted to serve businesses’ interests as opposed to those of her constituents.
“Unlike my opponent, I don’t have big banks like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America or huge insurance companies like Unitedhealth and Humana paying my way,” Schlingensiepen said. “But the people of the 2nd District support me. They know we’ve got to change the way Congress does business. My opponent has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy corporations and done their bidding.”
Jenkins’ rallying cry largely has taken form in vocalizing her opposition to President Obama’s policies, namely the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Jenkins, who’s held her seat in the U.S. House since defeating Nancy Boyda, D-Topeka, in 2008, said if she’s re-elected she plans to continue fighting the health care reform law she and others have dubbed “Obamacare.”
“As a member of the House Ways and Means committee, I am working to repeal Obamacare and create real health care reforms,” Jenkins said on her campaign website. “Our plan includes weeding out waste and fraud, giving tax credits to allow people to buy their own insurance, ending denial of care based on pre-existing conditions, tort reform, letting businesses band together to offer affordable insurance and allowing citizens to buy insurance outside of their state of residence.”
“We are at a crossroads right now,” Jenkins said. “We can continue down this road of higher taxes, higher spending, higher debt, higher unemployment or we could stop it here and turn the thing around and put us all on a path to prosperity. ... I challenge you in the days ahead to dig deep and help us all get across the finish line. This election cycle, in my view, is the most important election cycle in my lifetime and I’m sure it probably is for all of you, too.”
An opponent to unlimited campaign contributions, Schlingensiepen said if he’s elected to Congress he would work to change the nation’s campaign finance laws.
“The need to raise millions to fund campaigns also leads representatives to be more concerned about serving the needs of their donors than serving the people of their district,” Schlingensiepen wrote on his campaign website. “I will introduce legislation to put an end to this by creating a sensible limit to fundraising. I will propose capping the amount a candidate for Congress can raise at $500,000 per election.”
Such a cap on contributions might have benefited Schlingensiepen’s campaign this year, as his opponent maintains a massive fundraising advantage.
Schlingensiepen’s campaign has garnered slightly more than $190,000 in total contributions, compared to Jenkins’ more than $1.81 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. Nearly 54 percent — or about $974,000 — of Jenkins’ contributions have derived from political action committees, most of which are outside of Kansas. Slightly more than 96 percent of Schlingensiepen’s funds were provided by individual contributors, the Federal Election Commission reports. Jenkins reported Oct. 17 having $1.24 million cash on hand for her campaign, while Schlingensiepen indicated having about $56,000.
In addition to having significantly more funds, Jenkins appears to have an additional advantage over her opponent. Of the district’s more than 460,000 registered voters, more than 40 percent are affiliated with the Republican party, compared to just under 30 percent for Democrats, according to information provided by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. Those totals are unofficial, however, because some counties in the district have not yet submitted their certified voter registration numbers to the Secretary of State’s office, Kay Curtis, director of public affairs and legal publications for the office, said.
Among their many legislative priorities, both candidates have expressed intentions of supporting Kansas education. For Schlingensiepen, providing support to Kansas’ public schools also is a means to create jobs and spur economic growth.
“Business leaders tell us that some of the top things they look for when hiring workers is education and the ability to learn in an ever-changing workplace,” Schlingensiepen said. “We must invest in education if we’re going to grow our economy and compete in a world marketplace. I will protect education funding and work to make certain the state receives the support it needs. I oppose the No Child Left Behind law and applaud Kansas for seeking a waiver.”
For Jenkins, education is a system best supported when it’s left to local school boards and communities.
“As a parent of two children educated in public schools, I have great faith in Kansas’ public education system,” Jenkins said. “There are always improvements to be made and accountability to be had. However, I also feel that both can be accomplished most efficiently at the state and local level by teachers and community leaders who are most intimately aware of the challenges and successes of each specific child and school. I do not believe a distant federal bureaucracy can best meet the individual needs of a child in Parsons or a middle school in Leavenworth.”
In 2010, Jenkins handily defeated Cheryl Hudspeth, D-Girard, claiming 63 percent of the vote. Before that, Jenkins defeated incumbent Democrat Nancy Boyda in 2008.
Asked what’s changed in the district since it last elected a Democrat, Loomis said federal issues have permeated local politics, which have intensified voters’ political views and opposition to out-of-party ideas.
“I think the same things have changed across Kansas, but I think 2010 really tells the story,” Loomis said, adding that he predicts a 60-percent to 40-percent victory for Jenkins. “Across the board, from governor to county commissioner, we were nationalized and you see that residue this year when Republicans are running against Democrats and bring up Obamacare — even if it’s a state legislative race. I think state politics have been nationalized. We’ve always been a red state, but we’ve turned a deeper shade of red.”