Gay, Native American Democrat busts candidate mold in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas added her name Wednesday to her party’s increasingly diverse slate of candidates advancing to the November ballot.
Davids, who would be the first gay, Native American elected to Congress, narrowly won a six-way primary in her eastern Kansas district, shattering the mold for a congressional primary winner in conservative Kansas and embodying the range of ethnicities and sexual orientations of Democratic candidates running throughout the country this fall.
Notably, the 38-year-old lawyer and activist from Kansas City, Kansas, is among a wave of gay, bisexual and transgender candidates running — the vast majority as Democrats — including at the top of the ballot in key states.
“Voters in the third congressional district have sent a clear message to the nation: Fairness and tolerance are Kansas values,” said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, a LGBT advocacy organization.
Roughly 200 LGBT candidates are expected to be on the November ballot across the country for state and federal office, the most ever, according to Sean Meloy, senior political director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a non-partisan political advocacy group. They include national figures such as Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the nation’s first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate, as well as Arizona Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema, who is bisexual, and Jared Polis of Colorado, who could become the first openly gay man elected governor in the U.S.
Davids also is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, a Native American tribe in Wisconsin, but is not alone among Native American women running for prominent political office this year.
Democrat Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, won the June primary for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, a Democratic-leaning district that includes the Albuquerque area.
There’s also Democrat Paulette Jordan of Idaho. A member of the Couer d’Alene Tribe, Jordan won the June primary for Idaho governor, but faces an uphill battle in the Republican-heavy state to become the first Native American governor.
In Michigan on Tuesday, state Rep. Rashida Tlaib won the Democratic primary in the state’s 13th Congressional District. With no Republican opponent on the November ballot, she’s poised to become the nation’s first Muslim woman elected to Congress.
In Kansas, Davids will face four-term Republican Kevin Yoder in the 3rd Congressional District, a Republican-leaning swath of urban and suburban eastern Kansas.
In their effort to claim seats in competitive districts now represented by Republicans, Democrats are targeting Yoder’s, where Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016 while losing the state overall to Republican Donald Trump. Democrats must gain 23 seats to claim the House majority.
Davids was overshadowed nationally by labor lawyer Brent Welder, whom Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed and campaigned for last month. Preliminary totals showed Davids edging Welder in the crowded field by 2,088 votes out of 61,321 cast.
“We were excited to talk with her, to fight for her, as others got national attention,” LGBTQ Victory’s Meloy said.
Though Davids represents a new generation of diverse candidates, the district she’s running to represent has little ethnic diversity. Johnson County, the district’s most populous, is 87 percent white.
Davids is a Cornell University law school graduate who worked as a lawyer for an Indian reservation in South Dakota before working as a White House fellow during Barack Obama’s presidency.
She also is a mixed martial arts fighter who introduced herself to voters with a video showing her in the ring, landing solid kicks to a large punching bag.
“You told me you needed someone who lives your struggles,” she wrote in an early Wednesday fundraising email to supporters that began with, “We did it!”
Davids was backed by abortion-rights advocacy group EMILY’s List, has called for treating gun violence as a public health crisis and has criticized tax cuts enacted by Trump.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, quickly tagged Davids as an “extreme” liberal and predicted she would vote in lockstep with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
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