Steve Watkins (Kansas politician)
Watkins is the son of endocrinologist Dr. Steven Charles Watkins, Sr. His mother, Barbara, is a retired schoolteacher. Steve's wife is also a physician. Watkins attended high school in Topeka, Kansas and left to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He was stationed at Fort Richardson in Alaska in 2000. He saw combat in 2004 in Khost province and conducted combat patrols on the Afghanistan–Pakistan border, attaining the rank of Captain. He began running dogs in Alaska in 2000, and competed in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, finishing 58th in 2015.
Watkins had spent five years on active duty with the United States Army according to his service records, including six months in Afghanistan. Subsequent to his military discharge he began working as a defense contractor in Afghanistan, beginning in late 2004. In a 2015 Washington Post interview, he said he had suffered a traumatic brain injury and in addition, hd been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder almost a decade prior. He told reporters his 2013 injury was a “tipping point” propelling him in the direction of “a more conventional life.” Watkins has said Kansas “was always home in my heart.” Property records established that Watkins is the owner of a pair of Alaskan condos, purchased in 2005 and 2015. The Topeka residence which Watkins on his voter registration is a rental.
Watkins' father, a physician, set up a $100,000 political action committee to underwrite his son's campaign. It made a $64,000 advertising purchase during the primary. Local Republican Party leaders expressed concerns about Watkins' background; Kansas state Senator Steve Fitzgerald, a primary candidate, noted that Watkins had never voted in Kansas until a recent local election. In September, Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale stated that Watkins and a second candidate for the seat, Dennis Pyle, had put out campaign ads with Trump's photo on them, without authorization, to impute endorsements by the president. On the other hand, Watkins was endorsed by U.S. Representative Roger Marshall, from Kansas Congressional District 1. Watkins won the nomination over six other candidates with 26.5% of the vote, and many of the Republican Party officials who had expressed concerns, including Fitzgerald, endorsed Watkins in the general election against the better-known Democrat Paul Davis, who had carried the district while losing a close 2014 gubernatorial race. Bob Beatty, a political scientist from Topeka, Kansas's Washburn University suggested that the Republican Party had taken a risk with Watkins, because he had not been previously been politically active.
In October, the Associated Press published a story questioning a number of details of Watkins' claimed background, including a claim on his website (later removed) that he had provided assistance to victims of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. Five weeks before the general election, the Kansas City (Missouri) Star reported that Watkins had claimed to establish a corporation, but had actually only consulted with the firm long after it incorporated. Watkins' campaign described the accusations as "fake news" and "baseless opinions from people who don’t know me."
The general election campaign, against moderate "Blue Dog Democrat" Davis, was described in the U.S. News and World Report as "one of the most negative and competitive congressional races in the country". A Siena College Research Institute/New York Times poll conducted September 21, 2018, showed Paul Davis with a 1% lead and possessing higher favorability ratings, 37% vs. 21%. The candidates debated on October 3, agreeing on a need to protect Social Security, but disagreeing on immigration. Watkins said he was in favor of Trump's proposed border wall, saying, "That doesn’t make us mean-spirited or the racist bigots that some leftists would have you believe. It’s just common sense." He called for restricting health care spending, but protecting Social Security.
2018 Primary results
|Republican||Vernon J. Fields||1,987||2.6|
- Davis, Watkins debate reveals immigration, health care differences, Topeka Capital Journal, Tim Carpenter, October 3, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
- Steven Watkins, Jr.'s Biography, Vote Smart. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
- Kansas congressional candidate who ran the Iditarod is having his honesty challenged, Anchorage Daily News, Roxana Hegeman and John Hanna (AP), October 2, 2018. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
- Topeka doctor spending $100K to to get son Steve Watkins elected to Congress, Capital Journal, Associated Press, July 3, 2018. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
- Watkins has voting history criticized, picks up Rep. Marshall's endorsement, WIBW, Nick Viviani (AP), July 31, 2018. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
- Trump/Pence 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale shared a special message with Kansas Republicans: Please don’t vote for Steve Watkins, Washington Post, Dave Weigel, August 7, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
- GOP candidate Watkins told voters he owned a company he built from scratch. He didn’t., Kansas City Star, Lindsay Wise, Kevin G. Hall & Hunter Woodall, September 26, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
- Lowry, Bryan; Woodall, Hunter (2018-10-04). "'We're just talking two years.' GOP officials grapple with doubts about Watkins". McClatchy DC. Retrieved 2018-10-06.
- Doblin, Jim (2018-10-02). "Update : Watkins challenges AP report about his accomplishments". KSNT. Retrieved 2018-10-06.
- David Catanese (September 28, 2018). "Why It's Getting Ugly in Kansas". usnews.com.
- The New York Times Upshot / Siena College Kansas 02 Poll, New York Times, September 21, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
- Woodall, Hunter (2018-10-03). "'I want to keep our culture,' GOP candidate says as he calls for Trump's wall". kansascity. Retrieved 2018-10-06.
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