Steve Watkins (politician)

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Steve Watkins
Member-elect of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kansas's 2nd district
Assuming office
January 3, 2019
SucceedingLynn Jenkins
Personal details
Born (1976-09-18) September 18, 1976 (age 42)
San Antonio, Texas
Political partyRepublican
EducationUnited States Military Academy (BS)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MS)
Harvard University (MPA)

Steven Charles Watkins Jr. (born September 18, 1976) in San Antonio, Texas,[1] is an army veteran, military contractor, and businessman, and the congressman-elect for the 2nd Congressional District of Kansas.


Watkins attended high school in Topeka, Kansas and left to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in 1999.[2] He is a graduate from the following military schools: Ranger, Airborne, Sapper, Air Assault, and Pathfinder. He was stationed at Fort Richardson in Alaska in 2000. He saw combat in 2004 in Khost province and conducted combat patrols on the Afghanistan–Pakistan border, attaining the rank of Captain. He began running dogs in Alaska in 2000, and competed in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.[3] He finished in 58th place in 2015, and did not finish the race in March 2018.[4]

In an attempt to become the first person to race in the Iditarod and climb Mt. Everest, he was caught up in the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. While he was at 19,200 feet (5,900 m) elevation, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, killing over 8,500 people. Twenty-two people died on Everest, including six from Watkins' team. It was the deadliest day in the history of Mount Everest.

Watkins said he has traveled or worked in over 75 countries. In addition to a degree from West Point, he holds masters degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard.

Watkins spent five years on active duty with the United States Army. After this, he began working as a defense contractor in Afghanistan, beginning in late 2004. In a 2015 Washington Post interview, he said he had suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2013, and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder almost a decade prior. He told reporters his injury was a “tipping point” propelling him in the direction of “a more conventional life.” [4]


Watkins' father, a physician, set up a political action committee (PAC) to underwrite his son's primary campaign. It made two initial $64,000 advertising purchases during the primary.[5][6] Local Republican Party leaders expressed concerns about Watkins' background. Kansas state Senator Steve Fitzgerald, a primary candidate, noted that Watkins had never voted in Kansas until a recent local election.[7] In July, Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, stated that Watkins and a second candidate for the seat, Dennis Pyle, had put out campaign ads with Trump's photo on them, without authorization, to impute endorsements by the president.[8] On the other hand, Watkins was endorsed by U.S. Representative Roger Marshall, from Kansas Congressional District 1.[7] Watkins won the nomination over six other candidates with 26.5% of the vote. His family's PAC had spent $710,010 supporting his candidacy, and $35,860 opposing Caryn Tyson, the Parscale-endorsed primary candidate who finished second.[8][6] Many of the Republican Party officials who had expressed concerns, including Fitzgerald, endorsed Watkins in the general election against the better-known Democrat Paul Davis, who had carried the congressional district in 2014, while losing a close gubernatorial general election to Sam Brownback.[4] Bob Beatty, a political scientist from Topeka, Kansas's Washburn University suggested that the Republican Party had taken a risk with Watkins, because he had not been previously been politically active.[4]

In October, the Associated Press published a story questioning a number of details of Watkins' claimed background, including a debunked assertion he made on his website that he had been praised by outfitter Guy Cotter for his leadership after the Nepal earthquake. The assertion was removed from his website after the story was published.[4] Five weeks before the general election, the Kansas City Star reported that Watkins had claimed in two different Kansas counties to have established a corporation, even saying he had opted to take no salary so that his employees would remain on the job. The paper found he had actually only consulted with the firm long after it had been incorporated.[9] Watkins' campaign described the accusations as "fake news" and "baseless opinions from people who don’t know me."[10][11]

The general election campaign, against moderate "Blue Dog Democrat" Davis, was described in the U.S. News and World Report as "one of the most negative and competitive congressional races in the country".[12] A Siena College Research Institute/New York Times poll conducted September 21, 2018, showed Davis with a 1% lead and possessing higher favorability ratings, 37% vs. 21%.[13] The candidates debated on October 3, agreeing on a need to protect Social Security, but disagreeing on immigration. Watkins said he was in favor of Trump's proposed border wall, saying, "That doesn’t make us mean-spirited or the racist bigots that some leftists would have you believe. It’s just common sense." He called for restricting health care spending, but protecting Social Security.[2][14] On October 6, 2018, President Trump spoke at a standing room-only rally in Topeka, Kansas, in favor of Watkins and also gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, who later lost. Trump said that voting for Davis "is a vote for the radical agenda" of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and "the legendary Maxine Waters," a black California congresswoman. The paper wrote that "even a moment's attention from the president was the best thing that could have happened to [Watkins'] campaign."[15]

On November 6, 2018, Watkins defeated Davis by 1.7 percentage points, taking all but the two most populous and urbanized counties – Shawnee and Douglas – which Davis won by wide margins.[16]

2018 Republican primary results[edit]

Republican primary results
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Steve Watkins 20,052 26.5
Republican Caryn Tyson 17,749 23.5
Republican Kevin Jones 11,201 14.8
Republican Steve Fitzgerald 9,227 12.2
Republican Dennis Pyle 9,126 12.1
Republican Doug Mays 6,221 8.2
Republican Vernon J. Fields 1,987 2.6
Total votes 75,563 100.0

2018 General election results[edit]

Kansas' 2nd congressional district, 2018[16][17]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Steve Watkins 124,895 48.1
Democratic Paul Davis 120,421 46.4
Libertarian Kelly Standley 14,402 5.5
Total votes 259,718 100.0

Allegations of sexual misconduct[edit]

In October 2018, Chelsea Scarlett, an Alaska resident who had worked in the same military base as Watkins, accused Watkins of locking her in a room 12 years previously, putting his hands on her, and making unwanted sexual advances. Scarlett said she did not file a complaint at the time of the incident in 2006 for fear of losing her job. She alleged that Watkins was a "predator" who would "do things to young girls in those offices because they’re cute and vulnerable." Watkins denied the allegations with the response "These charges are so preposterous they don’t deserve the dignity of a response or publication, but Republicans face this kind of assault from the media every day."[18][19][20]


  1. ^ Interview with Musher Steve Watkins, Eanes Innovative School District, K. Coffield, 2015. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Davis, Watkins debate reveals immigration, health care differences, Topeka Capital Journal, Tim Carpenter, October 3, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  3. ^ Steven Watkins, Jr.'s Biography, Vote Smart. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e Kansas congressional candidate who ran the Iditarod is having his honesty challenged, Anchorage Daily News, Roxana Hegeman and John Hanna (AP), October 2, 2018. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  5. ^ Topeka doctor spending $100K to to get son Steve Watkins elected to Congress, Capital Journal, Associated Press, July 3, 2018. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Kansans Can Do Anything PAC Independent Expenditures 2018 cycle, Federal Elections Commission, Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Watkins has voting history criticized, picks up Rep. Marshall's endorsement, WIBW, Nick Viviani (AP), July 31, 2018. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Trump/Pence 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale shared a special message with Kansas Republicans: Please don’t vote for Steve Watkins, Washington Post, Dave Weigel, August 7, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  9. ^ GOP candidate Watkins told voters he owned a company he built from scratch. He didn’t., Kansas City Star, Lindsay Wise, Kevin G. Hall & Hunter Woodall, September 26, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  10. ^ Lowry, Bryan; Woodall, Hunter (October 4, 2018). "'We're just talking two years.' GOP officials grapple with doubts about Watkins". McClatchy DC. Retrieved October 6, 2018.
  11. ^ Doblin, Jim (October 2, 2018). "Update : Watkins challenges AP report about his accomplishments". KSNT. Retrieved October 6, 2018.
  12. ^ David Catanese (September 28, 2018). "Why It's Getting Ugly in Kansas".
  13. ^ The New York Times Upshot / Siena College Kansas 02 Poll, New York Times, September 21, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  14. ^ Woodall, Hunter (October 3, 2018). "'I want to keep our culture,' GOP candidate says as he calls for Trump's wall". kansascity. Retrieved October 6, 2018.
  15. ^ Trump's funniest line in Topeka, Cowley Courier Traveler, October 10, 2018.
  16. ^ a b GOP newcomer Steve Watkins bucks polls to keep Kansas’ 2nd District red, Kansas City Star, Steve Vockrodt & Eric Adler, November 6, 2018. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  17. ^ Kansas Election Results: Second House District, New York Times, November 7, 2018. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  18. ^ Sherman Smith. "Steve Watkins, GOP candidate for Congress, confronts allegations of sexual misconduct - News - The Topeka Capital-Journal - Topeka, KS". Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  19. ^ Woodall, Hunter (October 27, 2018). "Watkins and GOP denounce allegations of sexual advances | The Kansas City Star". Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  20. ^ Brown, Alex (October 29, 2018). "Watkins Faces Allegations of Sexual Misconduct, Infidelity". Retrieved December 6, 2018.