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GOP hopes Trump’s visit will boost novice House candidate

October 5, 2018

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some Republicans say they hope President Donald Trump’s visit to Topeka on Saturday will boost Steve Watkins’ 2nd Congressional District campaign, which has faced questions over claims he has made about his qualifications and background.

Watkins, a political newcomer, has tied himself to Trump throughout the campaign in a district the president won by 17 percentage points in 2016. Watkins’ Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, is a former state lawmaker who won the district while running for governor in 2014.

Saturday’s rally is the first time a president has campaigned for a candidate in the 2nd District since George W. Bush attended a rally for then-Rep. Jim Ryun in 2006. Democrats have targeted the district as one of two in Kansas they hope to flip this year.

Watkins, an Army veteran, has removed a testimonial from his campaign website about his “heroic leadership” when a deadly earthquake hit Mount Everest after the person quoted said it wasn’t accurate . He also has acknowledged inaccurately claiming that he started a Middle East business, although he continues to tout his experience with the company on the campaign trail. There are also doubts about his claim that he is a sixth-generation Kansan and he has acknowledged meeting with Democrats before entering the race as a Republican.

After Watkins attended a candidate forum with Davis on Wednesday in Independence, Wilson County GOP chairman Kris Marple said he will vote for Watkins despite some qualms.

“I’m willing to give him a term,” Marple said. “We’re just talking two years. If we come to find out that stuff’s true and he’s really not what he says he is, we’ll replace him in two years, I guess.”

The last time a Democrat won the seat was in 2006. Incumbent Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who won each of the past four elections by double digits, chose not to seek re-election.

Pat Leopold, Jenkins’ former chief of staff who is running Watkins’ campaign, rejected the suggestion that Republicans aren’t supporting Watkins.

“Once people get to know Steve, with very few exceptions, Republicans are on board. This is a conservative guy with a military background, great business background, who shares their values,” Leopold said.

Saturday’s rally comes only two months after Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Topeka native Brad Parscale, wrote an open letter condemning Watkins’ unauthorized use of images of the president in campaign material before the primary.

“It will legitimize his campaign,” Connie O’Brien, a former state lawmaker and the vice chair of the Leavenworth County Republican Party, said of Trump’s visit. She and her husband were among 40 county GOP officials to sign a letter opposing Watkins before the primary, but she’s decided to support him after attending a meeting in late August where Watkins’ childhood friends vouched for his integrity.

The Kansas Farm Bureau PAC, an important GOP constituency, has yet to endorse anyone in the race after its preferred candidate lost the GOP primary.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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