The ballroom at the Embassy Suites in Olathe was likely the most spirited spot in Johnson County on Tuesday as Sharice Davids and more than 1,000 supporters celebrated the first-time candidate’s victory over Kansas 3rd Congressional District incumbent Kevin Yoder — part of a wave that saw suburban voters oust Republican members of Congress across the country.
Davids took 53 percent of the vote to Yoder’s 44 percent. Libertarian challenger Chris Clemmons had about 3 percent.
When the crowd started to chant her name at the watch party Tuesday, Davids responding by asking them to chant “democracy” instead. She thanked her mother, brothers, campaign staff and “army of volunteers that made this happen.”
In her speech, Davids noted that Congressman Yoder had called to concede, and said she had thanked him for his years of service and acknowledged that “it takes a lot to run for office; it takes a lot of work and a lot of voices, whether we agree with them or not.”
“From the beginning this campaign has been built on bringing new leaders to the table, and new voices to the table,” Davids said. “I’m so honored to stand here today knowing that I will fill that role for our community here in January.”
Davids noted that supporting public education and affordable healthcare were her top priorities. She told the crowd that much of her success in life was the result of access to public education, and that she wants to ensure students have school resources so they have every opportunity. She also wants to make sure people with preexisting conditions can have access to healthcare.
Davids pledged to work to ensure more voices from the district are heard, including those who supported Yoder in the Congressional race.
“The core of this campaign has been about trying to figure out ways to make sure that as many voices and experiences as possible that we have in this community are being heard by our elected representatives,” Davids said.
The daughter of a single mother who is an Army veteran, Davids attended Johnson County Community College before earning her law degree at Cornell University and was a 2016-17 White House fellow. She is the first openly gay person to represent Kansas in Congress and will be the first Native American woman in the House of Representatives. Members of the Ho Chunk Nation, of which Davids is a member, stood behind her during her victory speech.
Prairie Village residents Cole and Danielle Robinson, who were the first two members of her campaign staff and named their child after her, introduced Davids as she took the stage for her victory speech.
“I think that now, on the verge of democracy, we have in fact lifted ourselves up,” said Mission resident Largo Callenbach, who was at the party. “We will stand up, we will speak up, and tonight we have been heard.”
In concession speech, Yoder calls for people to ‘set aside anger’
The outcome of Tuesday’s Congressional election was not welcome news to those gathered at the Republican watch party at the Overland Park DoubleTree. But neither was it unexpected.
Polls from races across the country had suggested that Republicans in districts with highly educated, suburban populations faced a challenging environment heading into Tuesday’s elections. Two polls ahead of Election Day had put Davids comfortably ahead of Yoder, and all of the major ratings agencies predicted she would win.
Still, some GOP members gathered at the party held out hope that they might be able to save the seat. Yoder’s supporters believed his performance in the a debate last week — the only one and he Davids held — showed a mastery of the issues and highlighted his work for the district. And his campaign mounted a near-constant bus tour of the district to raise his visibility in the closing days.
“Two years ago I was in this same ballroom and I didn’t think the Republicans would win the presidency and they surprised me,” said Leo Kwalik, a Yoder supporter from Olathe. “And here it is two years later and I was hoping that — knowing the party in power usually loses, more in the midterm — I was hoping to be surprised again this evening, and it just wasn’t to be.”
In his concession speech, Yoder said he had done his best to represent everyone who lives in the district, but said he had no regrets about his voting record.
“There will be prognosticators who will look back on my record, and they will say if I had cast a vote differently, or that if I’d stood up every day and just…opposed the administration…that I would have won this race,” he said. “Well, even if you look me in the eye and told me that I would have changed those things and I would have changed tonight’s outcome, I wouldn’t have done it.”
He also called for an end to divisiveness, and for people to “set aside this anger that’s consumed us.”
“This perpetual campaign cycle must close in common sense and good government must prevail,” he said.
Yoder’s full concession speech is below:
Jay Senter and Emily Park contributed to this report.