Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla came dressed for the occasion Tuesday as the Kansas Democratic Party celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment becoming enshrined into law.
De La Isla, who is running as the Democratic nominee in the 2nd Congressional District, wore a suffragette sash at the event, which comes as part of the Kansas’ delegation’s virtual Democratic National Convention programming.
It is a reminder, she said, of the fight for voting rights that has continued to this day.
"The struggle for us to be able to cast our vote is not new. It just is being reinvented year after year as people feel progress is being made," she said at the virtual event.
The fight for gender equality has always been an acute one in Kansas, participants said. The state allowed women the right to vote in local elections in 1887 and it recognized the right of women to vote more broadly in 1912 — eight years before it ratified the 19th Amendment.
And Democrats touted the idea that this legacy continues: All five Democratic congressional candidates for 2020, including De La Isla, are female.
"What little girls and boys are going to see is that women running for office is the norm, not the exception," said U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the lone Democrat in Kansas’ current congressional delegation.
Democrats say they are sensing an opportunity to send most or all of these women to Washington.
The most high-profile candidate among them is state Sen. Barbara Bollier, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate against Republican U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall.
A SurveyUSA poll from last week showed Bollier had pulled within two points of Marshall, a deficit within the poll’s 3.3% margin of error.
While Marshall’s campaign criticized the polling methodology, SurveyUSA’s work is well-regarded by many pundits. It also follows a Public Policy Polling survey from Aug. 7 that found the Republican had only a one-point lead.
The irony is that Bollier wouldn’t have been part of the 2016 Democratic Convention — she changed parties in 2018 after eight years as a moderate Republican representing Mission Hills.
"Republicans were not interested in common-sense solutions," Bollier said, saying this was the first election where she felt supported by her party.
The task of electing Bollier and her other "sunflower sisters," as they have dubbed themselves, won’t be easy.
A Democrat hasn’t represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate since 1932. In the state’s 1st Congressional District, where teacher Kali Barnett is running against former Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann, a Democrat hasn’t won since the district was moved to western Kansas.
In the 2nd Congressional District, the last Democrat to hold the seat was a woman: Nancy Boyda, who served from 2007 to 2009.
To duplicate that feat, De La Isla will have to defeat State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, who beat out wounded incumbent Rep. Steve Watkins to earn the GOP nomination. While LaTurner is widely regarded as a tougher opponent for Democrats, experts still say the race can be competitive.
And a fiery De La Isla didn’t back down in encouraging her fellow Democratic women ahead of November.
"It is important that all of you understand that this year, more than ever, you get fired up and get ready to go," she said. "Because we are fighting for the soul of the nation."