Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids was taking on opponents as a professional mixed martial arts fighter long before she tussled with political foes, and now she is entering one of the toughest bouts of her career.
She represents a swing district in the Kansas City, Kansas, suburbs, which is currently a blue outlier in an otherwise solidly red state. Ms. Davids, 41, is always on defense there but 2022 is expected to be a grueling race.
Ms. Davids‘ district is uniquely comprised of mostly urban and suburban communities, rather than rural areas that dominate the rest of the state. She is the only Democrat in Kansas’s six-member delegation to Congress, claiming the title after defeating four-term GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder in 2018.
In 2022, she is a prime target for the House Republicans in their quest to retake the majority.
She’s presenting herself as a moderate but critics note that she’s voted 100% with Democrats since President Biden took office.
“She’s definitely not a moderate Democrat,” said Marisel Sanchez Walston, chairwoman of the Johnson County GOP Party in Ms. Davids’ district. “If she’s going along with all the more progressive pieces of legislation that have come through, I don’t see how she can describe herself as a moderate.”
Ms. Davids defended her record, particularly her vote to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law by Mr. Biden last year, which she argues will help her constituents.
“I’ll vote on or work on bills and push for policy that’s going to be good for the 3rd District and for Kansas when I can and how I can,” Ms. Davids told The Washington Times. “If that means working with Democrats, it means working with Democrats. If it means working with Republicans, it means working with Republicans.”
Republican Amanda Adkins, who lost to Ms. Davids by 10 points in 2020, is running for a rematch this year. Ms. Adkins quickly racked up endorsements from top Republicans, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Kansas native, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Janee Hanzlick, a Johnson County Commissioner who has lived in the local area for more than 30 years, said she’s seen the district swing back and forth between the parties several times.
“The 3rd Congressional District is very diverse politically, economically, and racially,” she said. “Rep. Davids has a lot of different interests and perspectives to represent here.”
In some ways, Ms. Davids reflects the district’s diversity.
In 2018, she was one of the first two American Indian women elected to Congress and the first openly lesbian Kansan to be elected to Congress.
She currently co-chairs the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus and the Native American Caucus alongside Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, who lauded Ms. Davids as his Democratic counterpart.
“We have the unique position of representing not only our districts but also acting as a representative for tribal nations,” Mr. Cole said. “Like me, she is incredibly proud of her heritage.”
Still, Ms. Davids says there’s more to her than just those aspects of her identity. Growing up in a low-income, single-parent household where her family struggled to make ends meet, she says, gave her deeper perspectives about life in the Beltway.
Before Congress, Ms. Davids had a stint at the Transportation Department as a fellow for the Obama White House.
“When I was there, I realized there were times where I was the only person who had lived in a rural community before,” Ms. Davids told The Washington Times. “We’d be having conversations with folks in leadership positions out in D.C., and I was the only person in the room who was a first-generation college student.”
Patrick Miller, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, said Ms. Davids could easily make a national name for herself in the current cultural climate, but he described her as someone who is more locally focused.
“She is not someone who primarily cares about identity politics,” Mr. Miller said. “She’s far more moderate than ‘the Squad,’ for example. She’s no [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]. I think there are some people who see two minority women, and then they try to make that easy comparison.”
Her voting record, however, shows few breaks with her party so far. She also was all-in with her party when President Trump was in the White House.
In the 116th Congress from 2019 to 2020, Ms. Davids voted 98% of the time with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
The congresswoman’s office stressed that Ms. Davids was of the 14 Democrats who their party to vote against the HEROES Act, which provided an additional stimulus check and student loan relief during the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, Ms. Davids argued the bill wasn’t bipartisan enough.
Still, Ms. Davids said she has no problem reaching across the aisle if needed.
Last November, the House passed a bill that would expand and advance new aviation technology that Ms. Davids introduced with Rep. Garret Graves, Louisiana Republican.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri Democrat who represents the Kansas City area, also recalled an early feat at the beginning of Ms. Davids‘ tenure in the House where the two broke from the party to bring jobs to their city.
The two joined their GOP colleagues from Kansas and Missouri to push the Agriculture Department to move hundreds of federal research jobs from the District to the Midwest, despite opposition from many Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer.
“A lot of the Democrats in my own party wanted Sharice Davids and me to oppose the move, but we supported it all the way,” Mr. Cleaver said.
Ms. Davids said serving a district that’s more moderate, she sees less of a partisan divide among her constituents who want the same end results — even if the pathway to get there might differ.
“There’s more of a recognition here that things in the mainstream conversation are easily put into a Democrat or Republican box, [but it’s] not always that simple,” Ms. Davids said. “At the end of the day, we all want to have good public schools, quality roads to drive on, and I feel that here. I don’t know if other people would say the same thing about their district or not, but that’s what it feels like to me.”