KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Republican incumbent in danger of losing his Kansas congressional seat aggressively portrayed his Democratic foe Tuesday as a radical leftist "rooting against our country" as he tried to turn her criticism of his ties to President Donald Trump against her.
GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder and Democratic challenger Sharice Davids had their first and likely only debate in the Kansas City-area 3rd District hours after Trump repeat-tweeted an earlier endorsement of Yoder. The Republican is one of 25 incumbent Republicans seeking re-election in a district Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The GOP-leaning district is a mix of fast-growing bedroom communities, established suburbs and city neighborhoods that Yoder has represented for four terms.
The contest also has received national attention — and excited Democratic donors across the country — because Davids is both an LGBT community member and a Native American woman. She also has fought in a few amateur and professional mixed martial arts bouts.
The candidates sparred over immigration, health care and even the work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which Yoder said had overreached in the past on regulations, hurting the economy.
But they wove common themes throughout their comments. Davids said Yoder's alliance with Trump puts him at odds with his constituents and Yoder argued that Davids is an interloper making vague statements to hide views far outside the political mainstream.
"What adds to the brokenness of Congress is obstructionists like my opponent who would go to Washington, D.C., to oppose the president," Yoder said. "Rather than trying to build bridges and working together, she's focused on rooting against the president and rooting against our country."
Yoder is the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, and Trump tweeted his "full and total endorsement" of Yoder in July after Republicans unveiled legislation that set aside $5 billion that could be used to help build a wall along the U.S-Mexico border. Trump tweeted Tuesday that Yoder "has fought hard for the People of Kansas" and still has "my Total Endorsement!"
Yoder said he's been upset by some of Trump's tweets and opposed separations of immigrant children from their parents at the border when families seek to enter the U.S. illegally. But Davids said Yoder has supported Trump "through thick and thin." She referred to Trump's endorsement of Yoder from the very start.
"We need to make sure that we have a member of Congress who is going to stand up for Kansas values, not Donald Trump's values," she said in her opening.
Yoder said during the debate that Davids moved to the district only last year to run for Congress. While Davids went to high school in Leavenworth and attended area colleges, she holds a law degree from Cornell University and was a White House fellow in 2016-17. She's a member of the Wisconsin-based Ho-Chunk Nation.
As for Yoder's comments, she said, "The idea that running for office would be rooting against our country is laughable," she told reporters after the debate.
Yoder defended the comment to reporters.
"Going to obstruct the president, going to work against him and to work against our country is rooting against America. I always rooted for President Obama to succeed," Yoder said. "She and her liberal supporters are hoping the president fails, which means the country fails."
As an example of what Yoder saw as Davids' "radical" policies, he said she supports abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While she did say that in answering a question in a July podcast , she has since said she does not support abolishing ICE.
He also repeatedly suggested that she would support Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, the California liberal, for House speaker should Democrats recapture the House majority. Davids ducked the question, saying she can't say who she would support.
The two candidates sparred further when, late in the debate, Yoder called the EPA "one of the most destructive agencies out there."
Davids replied: "I'm floored by the fact that you think the most destructive department is the EPA."