Indicted GOP congressman loses despite Trump and Pence endorsements

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Rep. Steve Watkins is accused of three felony counts of voter fraud.

Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS) lost his primary bid on Tuesday, despite running with endorsements from both Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

His defeat comes just weeks after he was indicted for felony voter fraud.

Kansas State Treasurer Jake LaTurner defeated Watkins for the Republican nomination in Kansas's 2nd Congressional District, 49.1% to 34.1%. LaTurner will now face Democratic Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla in November.

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Watkins was indicted last month on three felony counts of voter fraud. Prosecutors alleged he illegally registered to vote using the address of a UPS storefront, rather than his home address. Watkins has admitted to voting with the wrong address, but minimized it an inadvertent mistake.

He "temporarily and voluntarily" agreed to give up his House committee assignments after the indictment, saying this would allow him to "fight these bogus charges."

This was not the first ethics controversy for the first-term Republican congressman.

During his 2018 campaign, a woman accused Watkins of having locked the door of a room to make unwelcome sexual advances in 2006. His campaign denied those allegations as "preposterous."

Watkins also faced questions during that campaign about whether he inflated his resume, after he falsely suggested he owned and built up a defense contracting company from scratch.

Despite those earlier controversies, Watkins was named a Kansas co-chair of the Trump-Pence 2020 reelection campaign in November. Watkins played up this honorary position in campaign ads and in his stump speeches.

He also highlighted endorsements from Trump and Pence prominently on his campaign website. Pence recorded a video endorsement message last September, thanking Kansans for supporting the "awesome" Watkins.

Even after the July indictment, Trump and Pence did nothing to disavow Watkins.

A campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story about whether Watkins remains a Kansas co-chair.

Trump memorably bragged last month about the value of his endorsements, falsely claiming to be "88 and 2 (really 1) in ENDORSEMENTS this election cycle."

In reality, voters have repeatedly rejected his advice — even in many Republican nomination contests.

In addition to Watkins, voters broke with Trump in primaries or caucuses this year in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District,  Virginia's 5th Congressional District, Kentucky's 4th Congressional District, North Carolina's 11th Congressional District, and the North Dakota treasurer's race — and in a non-partisan Wisconsin Supreme Court race.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.