As Paul Davis tours the 2nd District, where the congressional candidate is talking to people in every county, he hears more about health care than any other issue.

Recent news that Mercy Hospital is closing in Fort Scott underscored the difficulties rural hospitals face while operating under the Affordable Care Act in a state that hasn’t expanded Medicaid.

By providing health insurance coverage to an additional 150,000 low-income Kansans, Davis said, the state can retrieve federal dollars paid by taxpayers here and lend some stability to struggling hospitals. If the Democrat prevails over Republican rival Steve Watkins, he intends to do something about it.

“Congress can turn the screws on states like Kansas that have not expanded Medicaid,” Davis said.

Davis, a former legislator who challenged Sam Brownback in the governor’s race four years ago, talked about the congressional race in an appearance before The Topeka Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board.

More than anything else, he said, people in the district want to see lower costs for health coverage. Davis said the problem is that Congress is controlled by drug companies, and both parties are to blame.

He sees a need for more politicians who are willing to work across party lines rather than play to their base. Part of his strategy is listening to the diverse views of people across the district, which encompasses a military installation in Fort Leavenworth, pockets of conservative rural areas, several state universities, and Lawrence — the liberal bastion of Kansas.

After taking office, he said, he would hold a town hall in every county in the district every year.

“I’ve been around for a little while,” Davis said, “but you think you understand some issues sometimes, and you are learning things constantly. I think that’s pretty important.”

Davis and Watkins are vying for the seat Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins has held for 10 years. Forecasters have gradually shifted their predictions from favoring Watkins to couching the race as a toss-up.

With the candidates lodged in the dogfight over control of Congress, both have benefited from the influx of out-of-state super PAC spending. This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee delivered an attack on Watkins for his “web of lies.” On the other side, the Congressional Leadership Fund has deployed a series of ads that compare Davis to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offer a misleading review of his voting record, and remind voters that as a young man, Davis was in a strip club that was raided.

Davis said the hostile nature of the ads are an indicator that Republicans “are not in a good place.” He thinks the attacks aren’t working because the airwaves have become oversaturated, and he offered a simple description of the personal jibes.

“Distasteful, I think, is probably the word that comes to mind,” Davis said.