DODGE CITY — The two candidates running for the 1st Congressional District spent the last full day of campaigning on Monday trekking across central and western Kansas vying for votes in a district that covers more than half the state.
The race between Rep. Roger Marshall, the Republican incumbent from Great Bend, and Democrat Alan LaPolice, of Clyde, will be decided on Tuesday.
While the 2nd and 3rd Congressional districts may go blue, Bob Beatty, Washburn University political science professor, said the 1st district is much more difficult for Democrats.
"There just aren't many Democrats in the district," Beatty said, "and there just aren't too many moderate Republicans as well."
However, LaPolice said he was hopeful people had heard his message of unity.
"The only way that we advance as a nation is to restore confidence in government, and the only way to restore confidence in government is to get bipartisanship — meaningful collaboration from our representatives and from our senators," LaPolice said. "And I also toy with the idea of maybe it's not even bipartisanship — maybe that's not the word, maybe it's nonpartisanship."
Tuesday's election is in part a referendum on President Donald Trump's administration.
According to Marshall, 65 percent of people in "The Big First" think Trump is doing a good job. Among Republicans in the district, 90 percent share that view.
With agriculture making up 70 percent of the economy in the district, it's a top priority, according to LaPolice.
"We need markets and we don't have markets when our Congress and our executive (branch) don't negotiate new trade," he said.
The local economy has been jeopardized because of tariffs and the threat of a trade war.
"What you don't do is pick a fight with our major consumers," LaPolice said, pointing to trade disputes with China, Canada and Mexico.
Marshall said economic security and health care are important concerns.
"The cost of health care comes up over and over again," he said.
The simplest way to address the problem is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"The Affordable Care Act is very much responsible for driving the cost of health care up, it creates over-regulation," Marshall said, adding that there are other ways to protect people with pre-existing conditions.
Marshall said a secure border is important especially given opioids that flow across the southern border.
"I stand right beside President Trump on the importance of border security," he said.
He is also focused on a guest worker visa bill. In one iteration of the legislation, employees could work in the U.S., but would be required to leave for 60 days every three years. It isn't a path to citizenship, he pointed out.
"We're actually very, very close to having enough votes to pass that in the House," Marshall said. "We're probably about 15 votes short."
Immigration is an issue that hits home for LaPolice. His wife, Sonia, arrived in the U.S. in 1981 after she and her mother fled civil war in El Salvador.
"By God, our country was better in 1981 because they granted them asylum, and they gave them the opportunities that America is built on and they became the American dream," he said. "What are we if we can't address that?"
In addition to immigration based on humanitarian needs, LaPolice said reform is needed for economic migrants.
"We need them. I say this, if you like food, then you like immigration," he said. "If you don't fix immigration, rather if you go the other direction, you will kill Kansas farming."
LaPolice said he also supports border security measures and deporting those who don't comply with the law.
Dodge City debacle
Marshall said he wanted to stop Monday in Dodge City to see what concerns people had about the relocation of the town's sole polling place outside the city.
The ACLU sued Ford County, alleging that Hispanic voters may be disproportionately impacted by the move.
"It is a little bit out of the way to get to that place, so I understand their concerns, but there was no malice," Marshall said.
Ford County Clerk Deborah Cox has gone above and beyond, Marshall said, providing advance ballots and opportunities for in-person early voting. The city is also providing bus services on Election Day.
"I think it's maybe overblown and exaggerated a little bit," Marshall said. "This is not about Hispanic versus white at all. Dodge City has embraced immigration in just a wonderful and beautiful way."
He also believes the national media has blown the issue out of proportion.
"That's disappointing," Marshall said.
LaPolice said he learned that Dodge City had one polling site about three months ago. The issue became more pressing when the location was moved outside town and the wrong information was sent out to voters.
"I am not saying that there was any kind of plot," he said. "I'm not saying (Cox) had ill intentions, but it was very, very poor decision-making."
LaPolice recently helped distribute voter literature in Dodge City.
"How do you turn this into a net gain?" he asked. "What this became was outreach. No one ever engaged with them, they just kind of dismissed them and this voter relocation was another dismissal...I was so uplifted by it, because we did something that apparently we'd forgotten, which was to ask them, to engage, to reach out, so I'm very proud of that."
Marshall said he thinks Trump is doing "a great job."
"What I like is he's very outcome-focused," Marshall said. "He holds people accountable. I think he's pretty much said, 'Here's my promise, this is what I'm going to do.' And he's been checking them off one at a time. So I like a person, a leader who's a man of his word. I think this country is going in the right direction. In this big ship we call the United States of America we have turned back in the right direction. The economy is doing tremendous."
LaPolice said Trump's administration would become more effective if Congress wasn't majority Republican.
"If we give a Congress that actually represents all Americans, then Congress creates policies that serve all Americans," he said. "That's how you make America great again."//