By Adam Strunk
For local Democrats and some Republicans, the District 72 State House race results came as a surprise.
Two-time elected incumbent Tim Hodge lost to Avery Anderson, a 23-year-old political newcomer, by nearly 80 percentage points.
“I thought Avery and Hodge would be a lot tighter race,” Harvey County Republican Party Chair Jason Mitchell said.
Hodge, who had won two tight races, had embarked on an intensive door to door ground campaign, registering voters and signing them up for advanced ballots. The effort, in part, had grown the Democratic Party’s share of the electorate by six percent in two years in the district. The Republican Party’s share shrank by four percent, resulting in a map that looked 10 percent more favorable for Hodge than in 2018.
“I don’t have a good explanation,” Harvey County Democratic Party Chair Arnita Haury said, adding that the party as well as the Hodge campaign worked incredibly hard to reach voters.
“We have a lot of active Democrats, and we did a massive amount of voter contacts along with Hodge’s campaign,” she said.
The results in Harvey County mirrored results seen in many other places in Kansas. Democrats have so far lost three seats in the State House of Representatives. They started the election hopeful of picking up the one seat needed to prevent the Republican Party from maintaining a veto-proof majority. Those numbers could get worse for the party, as three races—two involving Democratic incumbents—remain too close to call, according to the Kansas Reflector. That count includes Hutchinson Democratic incumbent Jason Probst, who didn’t face a challenger in 2018 and now holds on to a six-vote lead over Republican challenger John Whitesel.
“It’s just going to be harder for [Governor] Laura Kelly,” said Russell Arben Fox, professor of political science for Friends University. “She’s not going to be able to govern by veto. She’s going to be dealing with even more hard core conservatives.”
Fox said increased turnout caused by the U.S. Presidential race and the Senate race helped the Republican Party make gains on Election Day.
Despite losing the popular election by more than four million votes, Fox said the president remained popular in much of Kansas and drew out many supporters to vote.
“When you have a presidential election year with a candidate so polarizing, that’s so good reaching out to his base, in a state like Kansas, you’re going to see more Republicans get activated and turned into voters than Democrats,” he said.
In turn, he said a lot of Republican voters coming out specifically to vote for a presidential candidate. That results in all Republicans on the ballot benefiting.
“You’re activating a lot of low propensity Republicans; it turns out that when they turn out for Trump, they vote [Republican] down the ticket,” he said.
Donald Trump and Mike Pence received 58 percent of the vote in Harvey County, 20 percent more than the Biden Campaign. Trump’s margin was similar to 2016, but he received 1,300 more votes in the county, thanks to higher voter turnout.
Mitchell said Republican excitement about the presidency and U.S. Senate race likely served as a benefit for both Anderson and County Commissioner Randy Hague.
“I think it was the excitement and turnout at the polls,” he said. “When you have more Rs in the county, a lot who don’t pay attention to who’s running locally, they vote down the ballot.”
That spelled good news for the local Republican Party.
While a breakdown by how those registered in each party voted was not immediately available, it’s very likely, looking at the previously mentioned numbers, that Anderson did manage to win back some of the moderate Republicans who previously voted for Hodge.
Anderson was the sole Republican in the 2020 primary to not come out against Medicaid expansion during a June debate. Expansion is an issue where many moderate Republicans disagreed with the conservative wing of the party.
In 2018, Democrats made up 23.4 percent of the vote share of District 72, and Hodge won 51 percent of the vote, meaning more than half of his vote share likely came from unaffiliated voters or Republicans.
In 2020, Democrats made up 29.5 percent of the vote share, and Hodge won 45 percent of the vote, meaning two-thirds likely came from his party, assuming all groups had similar amounts of turnout.
The Democratic affiliation in the county increased by 1,458 votes since 2018, according to data from the Harvey County Election Office.
Hodge received his highest total of votes in 2020, but it amounted to a 374 vote increase in 2020 over 2018.
Anderson received almost 2,000 more votes than the 2018 Republican nominee Steve Kelly and 1,253 more votes than Marc Rhoades—who tied himself to then unpopular Governor Sam Brownback—did in 2016.
“This is a state with more Republicans than Democrats,” Fox said. “The only way Democrats win is getting Republicans to vote for them.”
Where registration numbers were closer, such as County Commission District Two with 39 percent of the district registered Democrats and 41 percent registered Republicans, the race was closer. County Commissioner Randy Hague, a Republican, led Christy Schunn, a Democrat, by two percentage points or 121 votes as of Tuesday.
Hodge gave a limited analysis of the results, stating he believed advertising in the senate race against Bollier bringing up issues of gun ownership and abortion hurt him by bringing out single-issue voters.
Haury added that she believed Anderson also benefited from having a well-known last name in Newton and that Harvey County still has a majority of Republicans.
Anderson explained his victory on election night by saying he has been doing a lot of walking and door-to-door campaigning and listening to voters.
Mitchell credited Anderson for working hard, walking routes and earning votes, similar he said, to the effort Hodge made when he first won the district.
“He earned it,” Mitchell said of Anderson.