TOPEKA — The presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden had undeniable appeal for 154 million Americans casting ballots, but the aftermath has given new definition to post-election acrimony.
Trump has fanned flames of election skepticism and stretched credibility by alleging his loss in the popular vote and Electoral College resulted from corruption. The president has refused to concede to Biden, reflecting a never-surrender sentiment admired by his fans, even as legal cases in several states crumbled.
However, the outgoing president hasn’t concentrated his blame campaign on Democrats. He’s been tossing Republicans off the ledge, too.
“What’s interesting about all this is that we’re seeing attacks on officials in Georgia, in Arizona and in Nevada — Republican officials,” said Bob Beatty, a professor at Washburn University. “And we’re even seeing some sniping with Donald Trump and Fox News over election-related matters. To that point, you do wonder if and when Donald Trump vacates the American political scene, if we’ll go a little bit back to normal.”
Beatty and Amber Dickinson, both political science faculty at Washburn in Topeka, shared insights on the Kansas Reflector podcast into Kansas races for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
In Kansas, there’s been no movement to doubt the preliminary vote total giving Trump a 15 percentage point or 200,000 vote win.
Dickinson said there was national exhaustion with the 2020 election and a bipartisan eagerness to move ahead with the transition from Trump to Biden. However, she said, Trump’s fervent supporters expect the bombastic New Yorker elected in 2016 who promised to drain the swamp in D.C. and make the United States great again to fight until the final bell. Doing otherwise goes against the Trump brand, she said.
“Trump’s strong base expects him to behave this way,” Dickinson said. “I think they would be disappointed if he didn’t, because he really framed himself in his first election in 2016 as being this guy who says what’s on his mind, and who is going to put up a fight and who won’t be bullied, and really sort of developed this kind of macho personality.”
Beatty said Trump’s decision to plant seeds of voting corruption likely placed election officials on high alert.
“The great irony is this may be one of the most clean and most efficient elections in American history,” he said.
Marshall wins easily
The U.S. Senate race won by Roger Marshall, a Republican U.S. House member from Great Bend, over Democratic nominee Barbara Bollier provided less suspense than advertised.
Marshall led in the polls, but those surveys predicted a 5-point margin over his Johnson County opponent. Actual result was a double-digit romp: Marshall, 711,000 votes or 53%; Bollier, 552,000 votes or 42%.
Beatty said Bollier did no better than Biden in Kansas, both gaining about 550,000 votes. He said she needed Republicans who rejected Biden to cross the party line and vote for her. The undecided broke as expected for Marshall and the $25 million raised by Bollier may have convinced more Republicans to run to the polls and close the book on her, he said.
“I may go to my grave and not see a Democratic senator in Kansas,” said Beatty, who knows no Democrat has won a U.S. Senate campaign in Kansas since the 1930s.
Dickinson said she wasn’t persuaded any amount of money spent on Bollier would have altered the outcome.
“She created kind of this green mirage where people thought, ‘OK, well, she’s got all this money and she should just be able to sort of eviscerate Marshall.’ We have this assumption that money is going to win elections. But that’s clearly not the case,” she said.
3 House races
In the 3rd District contest for U.S. House, Democratic incumbent Sharice Davids dispatched Republican Amanda Adkins, who struggled to explain her long association with former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Sam Brownback. Adkins also was up against Davids’ bio.
“People were rooting for Sharice Davids because she was one of the first Native American women to serve in the United States Congress. And I think that this was really a big deal for people, especially given this climate that we’re dealing with right now, where we’re in this period of civil unrest, and we’re talking much more about diversity and inclusion,” Dickinson said.
Davids logged 53% of the vote in the Kansas City-area district, putting her more than 35,000 votes ahead of Adkins.
Beatty said the 1st District race to replace Marshall was likely won in August after former Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann won the GOP primary.
The climb for Democrat Kali Barnett was insurmountable in one of the nation’s most Republican congressional districts. Mann harvested 71% of the vote, about 120,000 more than Barnett.
“The interesting thing … is not necessarily who the congressman from the Big First is in many ways, but when does that congressman move on to higher office?” Beatty said.
In the 4th District in Wichita, U.S. Rep. Ron Estes dispatched Democrat Laura Lombard without fanfare by a margin of 64% to 36%, a gap of nearly 90,000 votes. “Potentially one of our least interesting races to talk about,” Dickinson said.
And, then LaTurner
The 2nd District of eastern Kansas was a different story from start to finish, Beatty said. It began with state Treasurer Jake LaTurner knocking out Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins in the primary. Watkins had the misfortune to be charged with voter fraud a few weeks before that August election.
“Watkins is one of the weakest incumbents in Kansas history,” Beatty said. “He was a weak candidate two years ago, and Republicans knew it at the time.”
On Nov. 3, LaTurner completed the marathon by outrunning Democrat Michelle De La Isla, the mayor of Topeka. He received 55% of the vote to De La Isla’s 41%, which was a difference of 50,000 votes.
Beatty said De La Isla won Shawnee County by a mere 5 percentage points, which wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the heavy rural backing for LaTurner, who grew up in the southeast Kansas corner of the GOP-leaning district.