Sanders,Ocasio-Cortez to Rally KS Dems 07/20 06:22
TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) -- Two luminaries in the democratic socialist movement
--- one its national leader, the other its new star --- are descending on
solidly Republican Kansas on Friday, taking their emboldened liberal message to
an unlikely testing ground before next month's congressional primaries.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who rose to fame
following her surprise win in last month's New York congressional primary, see
an opportunity to influence Democratic voters in Kansas ahead of the state's
Aug. 7 primary. They're especially focused on a crowded congressional primary
in the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City.
In an election year defined by energized Democratic voters seeking to send
President Donald Trump a message, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are betting they
can stoke the liberal march in places where the left rarely competes. Some
liberal voters are welcoming the spotlight.
"Progressive voters and even some moderate voters have been disheartened by
the lack of positive news from Kansas," said Anne Black, 43, a Democratic
precinct committee member from suburban Kansas City.
The trip is unusual on several fronts. For one, Trump won Kansas in 2016 by
20 percentage points, making it seemingly inhospitable for Democrats, much less
democratic socialists. Moreover, Sanders is a 76-year-old Jewish senator from
Vermont, while Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old Latina from the Bronx who is
poised to become the youngest member of Congress.
This political odd couple is scheduled to headline an evening rally in
Kansas City, Kansas, for Brent Welder, a labor lawyer running in a crowded
Democratic primary in Kansas' 3rd District. The district, represented by
four-term Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, is on Democrats' target list as they aim
to seize the GOP-controlled House in November. Democratic presidential nominee
Hillary Clinton narrowly carried the district in 2016.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are also scheduled to campaign together in Wichita
for Democrat James Thompson, a civil rights lawyer running in Kansas' 4th
District. Like Ocasio-Cortez and Welder, Thompson was an activist for Sanders'
2016 presidential campaign.
While organizers were forced to change venues for the Wichita event because
of high demand for the Friday afternoon rally, the race in the 3rd District is
considered more competitive. Still, Republicans are skeptical.
State Rep. Tom Cox, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican, said there are
pockets of liberal Democrats in the Kansas City suburbs but questioned whether
Sanders' message will resonate more broadly. He said Democrats tend to be split
between liberals and moderates, with some union members and supporters holding
conservative views on social issues.
"Even our Democrats around here are not socialist democrats," he said. "If
someone would describe the 3rd District, I would say center right."
Democrats, who have been shut out of statewide and congressional races since
2010, are having a similar debate among themselves. They must pick up at least
23 Republican-held seats to claim the House majority, and they are focusing on
25 districts where Clinton won, or Trump won narrowly.
Leading candidates in the Democratic primary for governor have said their
party must rebuild its brand in rural, heavily GOP areas. And despite surging
energy among lefist Democrats in the Trump era, it was unclear if there were
enough votes in the 3rd District for a liberal Democrat to win.
In 2016, Clinton narrowly won in this urban and suburban district whose
neighborhoods are out of keeping with the agriculturally rich prairies that
make up much of that state. And before Yoder first won in 2010, it had been
held for 12 years by centrist Democrat Dennis Moore, who relied on moderate
Republicans during his tenure.
Yet Sanders and his brand of liberalism have proved popular. He won more
than two-thirds of the votes in the state's 2016 presidential caucuses,
surpassing Barack Obama's 2008 vote total.
But registered Republicans in the 3rd District outnumber their Democratic
counterparts by more than 50,000, while unaffiliated voters also edge
Democrats. Republicans outnumber Democrats by 2-to-1 in the 4th District.
Liberals argue that they are not just convincing moderate Democrats or
disaffected Republicans but also engaging new primary voters, as Ocasio-Cortez
did in New York this summer and as Sanders did in his insurgent 2016
"If you're going to flip the district, you have to get new people involved
in the political process," said Sanders spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis. "There are
so many people not involved."
And candidates promoting Sanders' agenda have won Democratic primaries in
several of these districts, such as in Orange County, California, and suburban
A race for Kansas Democrats to watch lies just 180 miles (290 kilometers)
north on Interstate 29.
Democrat Kara Eastman won the May primary against moderate former Rep. Brad
Ashford on messages much like Sanders' in Nebraska's 2nd District, which
includes the city of Omaha and its suburbs.
She faces first-term Republican Rep. Don Bacon in this Republican-leaning
district, where Trump won narrowly in 2016 but Obama won in 2008.