Republicans use Sharice Davids’ own words against her as they push ‘radical’ label

Republican attack ads attempt to paint Democrat Sharice Davids as a radical

Republican attack ads have sought to paint Democrat Sharice Davids as a radical as seeks a Kansas congressional seat. Democrats say the ads mischaracterize Davids, but Republicans say they're based on her own comments.
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Republican attack ads have sought to paint Democrat Sharice Davids as a radical as seeks a Kansas congressional seat. Democrats say the ads mischaracterize Davids, but Republicans say they're based on her own comments.

Democrat Sharice Davids has been besieged by attacks that she’s too radical for Kansas as her November showdown with Rep. Kevin Yoder approaches.

But Republicans say they’re simply using Davids’ own words in their ads.

One of the latest ads features Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden, who accuses Davids, the daughter of a former Overland Park police officer, of being anti-police.

“Davids said our police system was rooted in violence and even bashed community policing programs. Sharice Davids sided with left-wing radicals and turned her back on law enforcement,” warns Hayden, who appears in his uniform.

At a Swing Left candidate forum in May, Davids weighed in on police shootings and use of force.

“I think one of the problems that we have when we talk about police violence is that we often focus on individuals within a system that is rooted in violence and until we address that, it won’t,” she said.

“I don’t honestly, I don’t think that having a requirement for police officers to be from a community or to build relationships with individuals is going to be the solution,” Davids said in a short video clip of the forum provided by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC that paid for the Hayden ad.

Republicans are increasingly worried that incumbent Yoder, R-Kansas, is vulnerable. He’s in a swing suburban district that President Donald Trump lost in 2016, and the GOP is well aware that simmering frustration with Trump could cost Yoder precious votes.

So their best strategy could be to stoke doubts about Davids.

“It’s the only shot Republicans have,” said David Wasserman, House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “The problem for Republicans is these midterms are shaping up to be a referendum on Trump and Trump lost this district.”

A Democrat has not won a congressional race in Kansas in a decade, but Republicans are pouring money into this state this election in the face of polling that shows two House seats could be up for grabs in the deep red state.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which has close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has spent a combined $4 million on Yoder’s 3rd congressional district race and the open seat race in the adjacent 2nd congressional district. Last week, it spent $320,000 on ads featuring Hayden.

Davids rebuked the police-themed ad as an attempt to mislead voters, noting that several of her family members have served as police officers. Her mother served as a police officer in Overland Park for one year from 1999 to 2000 after two decades in the Army.

“Of course I support our police. We do need to do a better job, though, of giving them the tools, resources and training they need to keep our communities safe. Community-based policing is a starting point but it’s not nearly enough,” Davids said in a written statement to McClatchy.

Republican attack ads have sought to paint Democrat Sharice Davids as a radical as seeks a Kansas congressional seat. Democrats say the ads mischaracterize Davids, but Republicans say they're based on her own comments.

She called for more funding for de-escalation training, which is designed to provide officers with methods to resolve situations without using force. She added that she was “interested in finding ways to help our community—not fabricating stories to try to divide it.”

It’s not the first time this election that a recording of something Davids said before she won the August Democratic primary has become fuel for a Republican attack.

Following her primary win, Davids grappled with controversy because of comments she made in July on a progressive podcast in which she voiced support for defunding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She also called for immigration enforcement to be removed from the Department of Homeland Security.

“There’s a fundamental problem right there. We have to get away from thinking of everyone who is coming to the United States as a threat,” Davids said on the podcast.

Davids said her words were taken out of context, but the podcast audio was featured in multiple ads and brought new scrutiny to the first-time candidate.

This week the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents border patrol agents, announced its support for Yoder, citing Davids’ “irresponsible and offensive rhetoric regarding men and women of law enforcement.”

GOP-aligned super PACs and Yoder’s campaign have used similar adjectives to describe Davids, a political newcomer who would make history as the first Native American woman in Congress if she wins and the first LGBT person to represent Kansas.

She’s been called “socialist,” “radical,” “risky” and “dangerous” in GOP attack ads.

The overall message of the ads is clear, said Bob Beatty, chair of the political science department at Washburn University in Topeka.

“The Republicans don’t want voters to see Davids as a person, this person with all these interesting traits. They want to lump her into a category of ‘left-wing liberal, dangerous,’” Beatty said.

Chris Reeves, the Kansas Democratic national committeeman, decried the attacks as having a racial undertone and contended that the lighting techniques have been used to darken the candidate’s skin in some of these ads.

“There’s a lot of dog whistle going on,” Reeves said. “There’s no denying they’re trying to say, ‘Hey, she’s not white.’”

Yoder’s campaign rejected the allegations that it has darkened Davids’ skin, noting that it used similar filters in ads against House Democratic candidate Jay Sidie in 2016.

“When you can’t defend the fact your candidate has called for abolishing ICE and espoused dangerous rhetoric towards law enforcement, you push conspiracy theories about filters in television commercials,” Yoder spokesman C.J. Grover said in a statement.

CLF said the accusation was absurd.

Beatty said that it’s likely that more comments Davids made during the primary will continue to resurface as Yoder and Davids’ struggle for support of moderate Republicans in the swing district.

“She’s going to have said some things that are going to please her base and those can hurt her in the general election,” he said. “You’ll notice in Davids’ own ads… They’re trying to have her come across as the most eminently reasonable person you’ll ever meet.”

Yoder has won the district by double digits every election since 2010, but a New York Times and Siena College poll showed the incumbent Republican trailing Davids by 8 percentage points less than two months before the election.

Wasserman said it’s too early to tell if the blitz of attacks against Davids will stick in voters’ minds, noting that most voters remain more focused on Trump right now.

“Sharice Davids’ background and story has energized Democrats both inside and outside of Kansas,” he said. “The question is whether her politics are accessible to a group of Republicans who don’t like Donald Trump and that’s the demographic Republicans are engaging with these ads.”

Bryan Lowry: 202-383-6167, @BryanLowry3