(Updated to include two other Republican endorsements for LaTurner with edits throughout).
Republican Congressman Ron Estes on Thursday came out in support of Treasurer Jake LaTurner in the 2nd District Congressional race against incumbent Steve Watkins.
Estes announced his support for LaTurner only days after Watkins was charged with voter fraud in connection with using a UPS office as his home address to vote in a Topeka municipal election in 2019.
“Jake LaTurner is a trusted conservative who is ready to represent eastern Kansas in Congress,” Estes said in a statement.
“There’s no question that he will serve Kansans in the 2nd District well – focusing on the issues that matter most like limiting the federal government, securing our country, balancing the budget, and protecting the unborn,” he said
Estes is the second big Republican name to support LaTurner in the congressional race.
Long before criminal charges were brought against Watkins, former Gov. Jeff Colyer persuaded LaTurner to bow out of the U.S. Senate race and run for the 2nd District nomination out of concern that Watkins would have trouble getting reelected.
Even at that time, Colyer suggested that Watkins had shortcomings because President Donald Trump carried the 2nd District by 19 percentage points while Watkins squeezed past Democrat Paul Davis by less than 1 percentage point.
Estes said the criminal charges against Watkins will be a distraction.
“Steve Watkins will have a difficult time doing his job in Congress until these charges are dealt with, and he needs to focus on putting his legal problems behind him,” Estes said.
“While he certainly deserves a fair hearing in a court of law, this process won’t play out until after the general election and Republicans cannot put this seat at risk by nominating a candidate charged with multiple felonies.”
Earlier this week, Watkins was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor.
He was charged with interference with a law enforcement officer, voting without being qualified, unlawful advance voting and failing to notify the department of motor vehicles of changing his address.
Watkins has said the prosecution is politically driven, citing the fact that the Shawnee County district attorney and LaTurner share the same political consultant.
“Jake LaTurner is a habitual office-seeker, and it’s clear now that there is nothing he will not do to advance his political career – including colluding with a corrupt prosecutor and their shared cronies,” Watkins’ spokesman Bryan Piligra said in a statement.
Piligra pointed to the announcement of the charges about 30 minutes before a televised debate with LaTurner and former Secretary of Administration Dennis Taylor as evidence of a conspiracy to take down the congressman.
The charges also came about three weeks before the Aug. 4 primary.
Piligra also questioned the timing of the congressman’s first court date, pointing out it wasn’t set until December, meaning the legal battle would play out for months during the election.
“All these coincidences lead to one inevitable conclusion: Jake LaTurner colluded with a corrupt prosecutor to file bogus charges to win an election he’s losing by more than 20 points,” Piligra said.
“If it looks like a scandal, feels like a scandal, and quacks like a scandal, then it probably is a scandal. Jake LaTurner, his cronies, and the corrupt prosecutor have a lot of questions to answer,” he said.
Earlier in the day, LaTurner picked up support from Cheryl Reynolds, the 2nd District chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party, and Don Alexander, chairman of the Neosho County Republican Party.
“As a party, we want a nominee that we know will lead by example and with integrity. Jake LaTurner is a person Kansans can trust to uphold our values and represent us well in Washington, D.C.,” said Reynolds, speaking personally and not as a party official.
Alexander reiterated that point.
“Jake LaTurner has a solid record of leading and getting things done for the people of Kansas. I know he will continue to do so in Congress and Kansans can be confident in him to do what he says he will do,” Alexander said.