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LaTurner ousts incumbent Watkins in Kansas 2nd District after voter fraud charges

Bryan Lowry, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Political News

Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner defeated embattled Republican Rep. Steve Watkins in the GOP primary Tuesday, three weeks after the freshman congressman was charged with voter fraud.

LaTurner has 49% of the vote with more than 50% of precincts reporting in the Kansas 2nd Congressional District. Watkins has 31%, while former Kansas Secretary of Administration Dennis Taylor has 21% in the three-way GOP race.

The Associated Press declared LaTurner's GOP primary victory around 9:30 pm. He will go on to face Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, who easily won the Democratic nomination with 76 % of the vote.

The district, which covers most of eastern Kansas, was one of the most closely contested in 2018.

LaTurner's campaign circulated an internal poll last month that had him in a toss-up race with De La Isla. It showed Watkins trailing the Democrat by double digits in a district that has only gone to a Democrat once in the last two decades.

Republicans are hopeful that LaTurner will be able to keep the seat in GOP hands. Former Kansas Republican chair Kelly Arnold said Democrats were "looking for a damaged opponent and that's not what they're going to have in Jake LaTurner."

 

Watkins is the sixth incumbent member of Congress to lose a primary this election cycle. His defeat to LaTurner likely puts an end to one of the shortest and strangest political careers in Kansas history.

Watkins, an Army veteran, emerged from obscurity in 2018 to narrowly win the district after his father, Steve Watkins Sr., steered nearly $800,000 into a super PAC.

His single term in Congress has been marked by controversy and multiple investigations, which culminated in the felony charges announced last month roughly a half-hour before Watkins appeared in a televised debate with LaTurner and Taylor.

The charges stem from Watkins' use of a UPS store as his voter registration address for the 2019 municipal election. He acknowledged to The Star that he voted in the wrong city council district, but described it as an inadvertent mistake and disputed that he should've been charged.

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