TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder launched a new television ad Oct. 9 with a testimonial from the widow of an Indian American engineer murdered in a Kansas City-area bar about the Republican’s efforts to help her remain in the U.S. afterward.
The 30-second spot featuring Sunayana Dumala praising Yoder comes with the four-term congressman locked in a tough race against Democrat Sharice Davids.
Yoder, chairman of a House subcommittee on homeland security, received President Donald Trump’s full endorsement in July, after the GOP unveiled a plan that included $5 billion that could help build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Yoder’s new ad began three days after Trump had a campaign rally in Topeka in a neighboring district that Yoder didn’t attend.
The new ad also highlights how immigration is a tricky issue in the Kansas City-area 3rd District, which Trump narrowly lost. Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political scientist, said many anti-Trump voters view the president as “anti-immigrant,” and the ad allows Yoder to “put some distance” between them.
“In a way, an ad like this has to come out after the Trump visit,” Beatty said. “This ad is for a relatively small group of moderate Republicans that are thinking of voting Democratic this time.”
Yoder is one of 25 GOP incumbents seeking re-election in a district Trump lost in 2016. Davids has received national attention for her unusual profile as an LGBT and Native American lawyer who has fought mixed martial arts bouts.
Dumala’s husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was an Indian immigrant working for GPS device-maker Garmin. He was shot to death in February 2017 at a bar in the suburb of Olathe and witnesses said the man convicted of the killing yelled “Get out of my country!” before opening fire. (See an earlier India-West story here.)
With her husband’s death, Dumala’s own visa expired, and Yoder helped her get one allowing her to stay in the U.S. She has since formed a group advocating tolerance, and in the ad, she calls Yoder a friend.
Yoder also is working on legislation aimed at clearing a backlog in the processing of work visas, and he’s faced some criticism on the right over immigration issues.
“This is a positive story that shows how effective Kevin has been for this community as a legislator and how important constituent services are to him, but more importantly it shows how much he cares about the people of this community,” Yoder spokesman C.J. Grover said in an email.
Kelly Arnold, the Kansas GOP’s chairman, said the spot is an effective one because it reminds voters of Yoder’s work for his constituents, “especially when it’s making sure justice is being done.”
But Davids spokeswoman Allison Teixeira Sulier said Yoder “continues to hide his dangerous voting record behind political grandstanding.”
“He’s in Trump’s pocket,” said Christ Reeves, a Democratic National Committee member from Kansas. “So he’s trying to get away from it by using one example and saying, ‘See, but I’m not always this way.’”