KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas State Treasurer Jake LaTurner upended incumbent Steve Watkins for the Republican nomination to the U.S House of Representatives representing Kansas’ 2nd District.
Watkins, a staunch advocate for President Trump, had been elected in 2018, but voters opted Tuesday not to send him back to Washington for a second term.
LaTurner prevailed in a three-man primary, which also included former Kansas labor secretary Dennis Taylor. He had 49% of the vote with 501 of 951 precincts reporting when The Associated Press called the race.
Watkins had 34% and Taylor had 18% of the vote.
LaTurner will face Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla for the congressional seat in November’s general election.
“I'm very excited about our opportunity, and we are looking forward to talking to the residents of Kansas coming up in the next few months, showing them what a great clean race looks like and making sure that we can hopefully win the hearts of people and make sure that they understand that I'm here to serve,” De La Isla said. “Hopefully, that message resonates.”
Democrats and Republicans alike believe Watkins was vulnerable in the general election.
Republicans have controlled the seat since the late 1970s, except for the two-year terms served by Jim Slattery (1983-1995) and Nancy Boyda (2007-09).
Watkins was charged July 14 with three felonies in connection with voting fraud.
He has been charged with interfering with law enforcement by providing false information, voting without being qualified and unlawful advance voting.
The allegations stem from the 2019 Topeka City Council race, when Watkins allegedly used a UPS store as his home address to vote in a different council district. He later lied to investigators about voting in the election.
Watkins has blamed “a clerical error” and his staff for the voting irregularities and called the prosecution political.
He was forced by U.S House rules to give up his committee assignments due to the felony charges.
Originally, LaTurner filed to run for the U.S. Senate vacancy created by Pat Roberts’ retirement, but he suspended that campaign in September 2019 and focused instead on the U.S. House race, because strategists feared Watkins’ vulnerability in a general election.
Two years ago, Watkins also faced a tough battle for the Republican nomination, edging Caryna Tyson in a deep primary that included six candidates who received at least 8% of the vote.
He faced an even tougher general election against Democrat Paul Davis, winning the congressional seat by 2,239 votes among more than a quarter-million ballots cast, a margin of 0.8%.
The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 3.
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