After winning a nail-biter two years ago, Barbara Wasinger won a blowout after votes were tallied Tuesday night.
Wasinger, a Hays Republican, unseated Hays Democrat Eber Phelps in 2018, winning a hotly contested race by 35 votes of more than 8,000 cast in the Kansas House of Representatives 111th District contest. In a rematch two years later, Wasinger beat back Phelps’ challenge, winning in convincing fashion. Wasinger won 64% of the vote, compared to 36% for Phelps.
"I worked really hard," Wasinger said. "I knocked on 7,000 doors. It was well over 15,000 steps. I just hoped that my hard work would pay off."
Wasinger won 7,093 votes and Phelps garnered 3,954 of more than 11,000 cast.
"It was just disappointing, because as I went door-to-door I was getting real positive feedback," Phelps said. "Of course, I did two years ago, as well.
"I was pretty confident I was going to do well. I was really disappointed in the margin. Not only disappointed, but pretty surprised at it."
Phelps, 69, who previously served 18 years in the Legislature, pointed to two factors that hurt his campaign. He said negative campaign literature sent out by groups supporting Wasinger and the county turning majority Republican in registered voters made it an uphill climb.
"If that’s what you’ve got to do to be involved in representing people, it’s just a sad day for our country and our state," Phelps said. "When you look at the numbers, if everybody votes a straight party ticket, no way. So, a Democrat running has to work on getting some Republican votes and a bigger share of unaffiliated voters."
Wasinger said her campaign did not send out any negative literature and to the best of her knowledge no groups supporting her sent out negative mailers. She added that Phelps sent out negative information about her.
"There were no negative mailers that came out on my side — none," Wasinger said. "He sent out a negative mailer four days before the election. He did not get any negative mailers sent against him. The most negative thing that was ever said was that 18 years was too long."
Phelps said his campaign did not send out any negative mailers. He added that he was aware of a mailer sent out shortly before the election by the Kansas Democratic Party, which he said examined Wasinger’s record. That mailer was one with which Wasinger took issue.
Wasinger, 62, is looking forward to returning to Topeka to serve another two-year term.
"I had no expectations," she said of the election. "I did what I said I would do (in the first term). I’m so honored that the 111th District voted me back in, and continue to work for them."
Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus, the county’s election officer, said Wednesday morning that turnout for the general election was at 71%, adding it was one of the highest turnouts that she could recall. Maskus has worked in the clerk’s office for 41 years. In 2012, turnout was 65% and in 2016 it was 67%.
"The big factor is presidential," Maskus said. "When it’s presidential, it brings people out."