Six months ago, very few people in the Kansas 3rd Congressional District even knew Sharice Davids’ name. Now she has made history. Davids is the first openly gay representative in Kansas history. She joins Deb Haaland from New Mexico as the first Native American women in the House.
"We have a chance to reset expectations when people look at Kansas," Davids said to a room full of cheering supporters. "I knew we could do better and we just did."
Anticipation was high for this first-time candidate. Campaign organizers say 1,000 people RSVP'd the watch party in Olathe. They came expecting a win, but few people thought she would beat incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder by nine points.
By 9:00 p.m., the crowd was cheering and dancing as Davids pulled away from Yoder. An hour later, dozens of her supporters were already sporting "Re-elect Sharice Davids" buttons.
The national implications for the race were obvious when Davids was introduced by Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of Houston and the CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, an early backer of Davids.
"This race was not just about Kansas," Parker said.
It was also a diverse crowd, with African-Americans, LGBTQ couples and Native Americans in attendance.
"This win was huge and long overdue," said Collin Price, communications director of the Ho-Chunk Nation, of which Davids is a member. "To see someone who looks like us, it's cool," he told KCUR.
Running for his fifth term, Yoder was well known in the district. Before that, he spent four terms in the Kansas House of Representatives. He has lived for most of his adult life in Overland Park.
He played that up during the campaign, suggesting Davids was a carpetbagger who moved back to Kansas simply to run for Congress.
He also attacked Davids for suggesting on a podcast that she might consider abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Davids denied that charge in TV spots and interviews.
But in his concession speech, Yoder took a more conciliatory tone and urged unity. "Republicans and Democrats must find common ground to get the job done because the American people are counting on it."
Davids seemed to come out of nowhere. She joined a crowded Democratic field just six months before the August primary.
She announced her candidacy the day after 17 people were gunned down at a Florida high school. Davids made gun control and health care the two main pillars of her campaign.
Her two chief rivals, Brent Welder and Tom Niermann, had both been campaigning for months before Davids announced.
She got a big boost in the primary when Emily’s List kicked in more than $700,000 to her campaign. After that, she was a fundraising machine. Her campaign raised $2.7 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. Yoder raised almost $1 million dollars less than his rookie Democratic opponent.
Frank Morris contributed to this report.