Republican’s surprise decision invokes GOP free-for-all in House district Democrats hope to compete in


Rep. Jacob LaTurner’s (R-KS) decision not to run for reelection in the wake of House turmoil shocked state Democrats and Republicans alike.

It resulted in an empty House race that remained uncontested for weeks as both parties grappled to recruit candidates in a district that has been safe for Republicans.

“[LaTurner’s decision] came as a surprise,” Kansas GOP Chairman Mike Brown said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. “I was unaware that he was contemplating or had made that decision until everyone else found out.”

Kansas’s 2nd Congressional District encompasses the state capital of Topeka, most of Kansas City, and other parts of rural Kansas. Recent redistricting made the district lean slightly more Republican, according to FiveThirtyEight, but also included a larger portion of liberal Kansas City. 

LaTurner previously had a tight grip on the district, securing the seat with more than 57% of the vote in 2022 and 55% in 2020, when he blew out Republican incumbent Steve Watkins in the primary.

Republican incumbents have enjoyed general domination in the district, but elections have been competitive in the past. Democrats upset longtime incumbent Jim Ryun in 2006 before the GOP nabbed the seat back with Lynn Jenkins, who held it from 2008 to 2018. After defeating a crowded primary in 2018, Steve Watkins took over the district until LaTurner.

Now, the 2024 elections look to be the best shot since for Democrats to claim the seat.

Shawnee County Democrats Chairman Keith Tatum was also surprised by LaTurner’s move.

“Our reaction was pleasant surprise,” Tatum said. “We did not see this coming.”

Tatum also said he believes Democrats can be more competitive in the district and “that there’s hope we might be able to turn this around.”

He’s optimistic Democrats can mount a better challenge without a Republican incumbent and believes Kansas is considered more “purple” than red in rural areas if you unpack the areas.

This year’s Republican primary looks similar to the primary of 2018, with several candidates declaring their candidacy and many others suspected of gearing up for a run.

Brown contemplated the district’s Republican prospects

“Croft is a name that we’re hearing a lot,” Brown said, referencing state Sen. Chris Croft, who is endorsed by the Kansas Young Republicans for the seat but who has not declared his candidacy. He also named former gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt and state Sen. Karen Tyson, who narrowly lost in 2018, among those who have expressed interest in running in the 2nd District.

Not long after the interview, Schmidt declared his candidacy.

The former Kansas attorney general narrowly lost to Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS) in 2022 and appears to have the most major political experience of any candidate in the race to date, having served as Kansas Senate majority leader from 2005 to 2011.

Former Kansas Livestock Association President Shawn Tiffany filed the same day and former LaTurner aide Jeff Kahrs three days later.

The aforementioned Croft said in a statement to the Washington Examiner that he is focused on finishing the end of Kansas’s 2024 legislative session, which adjourned April 30, and he and his wife “continue to prayerfully consider how we can best be of service.”

Brown, the Kansas GOP chairman, said in a later update that Tyson and Croft’s names “have both gotten very quiet” in the mix of Schmidt, Tiffany, and Kahrs. None of the three candidates have documented any raised funds for their campaigns yet.

While Republicans finally filed into the race weeks later, Democrats may have botched a major opportunity to compete in the district.

Democratic candidate Eli Woody was running for the Democratic nomination in the district and raised about $40,000 in campaign funds before suspending his House campaign and switching to running for state office.

That was about a month before LaTurner declared he wouldn’t run.

“I really wish that Eli had stayed in the race because he would clearly be the front-runner now and potentially all the way through,” Tatum said before Republicans filed for the seat.

Still, Democrats intend to run a candidate regardless of the short notice.

“We’re hopeful,” he said. “We think that we’ve got a shot here and we’re just looking to identify the candidate that’s best positioned to bring home the win.”

When contacted, Woody referred the Washington Examiner to a statement in the wake of Turner’s retirement saying he is running for state office and justified staying out of the race by saying whoever runs for Republicans will receive “large sums” of money “from groups like those funded by Mr. Koch.”

Brown previously said he suspects Democrats will put a lot of resources into the open seat and “given the balance in Congress right now, that every district that doesn’t have any strong incumbent in it is in play.”

That balance is only a four-seat Republican advantage, and if Democrats somehow stole the Kansas seat away from the GOP, it could do enough to help flip the House in their favor.

But as of May 10, no other Democrats have filed to run for the seat as the Aug. 6 primary approaches. Patrick Schmidt, a former Navy officer who ran against LaTurner for the seat in 2022, is now running for a state Senate seat. 

The Washington Examiner contacted his campaign asking if he was interested in running for the 2nd District but did not receive a response. 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

The district is one of only four House seats in the state and the second-most competitive before the neighboring 3rd District, represented by Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS), in a 2024 race projected to be competitive.

The Cook Political Report rates the race as “solid Republican” and doesn’t project it to be competitive. LaTurner and Kansas Democratic Chairwoman Jeanna Repass were contacted for this story by the Washington Examiner but did not respond.



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