In the Republican primary race for the District 1 Riley County Commission seat, 21-year-old Ben Wilson pulled a shocker on Tuesday when he defeated incumbent Dave Lewis by a margin of 66 votes, 615-549.
Lewis, who’s also the public-address announcer for Kansas State University sporting events among other trades, attributed the outcome to low attendance at the polls.
“What concerns me is voter apathy,” Lewis said. “When you have less than a 20 percent voter turnout, I don’t know if that’s a significant enough pool to get a good idea on what the community thinks.
I know the evangelical right is a very active voting block, and they came out out in full-force.”
While Lewis’ watch party at Hibachi Hut Tuesday night sat silent, Wilson and a few of his supporters watched from his parents’ house in Manhattan - which is where he still lives as he prepares to finish his last semester and a half at K-State as a music major.
“I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect,” Wilson said. “I had some friends over and some campaign volunteers and watched the results come in.
“I’m not sure I have my mind wrapped around it yet.”
Lewis called Wilson Tuesday night and congratulated him on his work.
“I told him he’s worked very hard and to enjoy the moment,” Lewis said.
Still, it wasn’t a call he expected he’d have to make.
“One thing I heard from a lot of people is that this would be a ‘no-brainer’ and that ‘Dave has it in the bag,’” Lewis said. “I don’t think I took the 1st District for granted. I’m still very, very proud of what I’ve done in the Riley County Commission and feel I’ve been a good leader in the community in that capacity, and I’m very thankful for that opportunity.”
Lewis also credited Wilson’s door-to-door work before the election.
“When you work two or three jobs, you don’t have as much time to campaign,” he said. “My calendar has always been very full, and (Wilson) took advantage of a very open and free calendar.
“He was able to knock on more doors than I did.”
Lewis also thought his status as an incumbent may have made him a target.
“I don’t think his age was ever an advantage,” he said. “A lot of people just vote against the incumbent. I heard that from a lot of people.”
Wilson said he appreciated the congratulatory call from Lewis.
“I was glad for his call,” Wilson said. “He mentioned my hard work, and I’m thankful for the work he’s done for the county.
Wilson agreed that his door-to-door strategy contributed to his victory.
“I think my message of being careful with spending and accountability resonated with voters.”
With no Democratic challenger, the only potential obstacle in Wilson’s way to officially claiming the seat would be a write-in challenger.
Lewis said he’s been urged by his supporters to consider taking another stab at the office that way, but he said it’s an option he’s unsure about.
“I just don’t know about that,” he said. “There’s a lot to think about. My daughter starts college, and I also have a business and family to focus on.
“I’m very fortunate to have the support that I have. It’s been absolutely mesmerizing. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this community. I always have and always will.”
Longtime local campaign consultant Jeff Chapman said Lewis simply may have been outworked on the campaign trail.
“The candidate who works the neighborhoods and knocks on the most doors and shakes the most hands tends to have the best chance to win,” Chapman said. “That may have been the case in the Lewis race, and I told that to Dave already.”
In the race for the 64th District Representative, Susie Swanson, looking to take the seat of her husband, Vern Swanson, defeated former Kansas Board of Education member Kathy Martin by 147 votes district-wide.
In other races of note, former Manhattan mayor Jim Sherow beat out Bryan Whitney for the Democratic ticket to face Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who held off Republican challenger Alan LaPolice, for the U.S. House 1st District seat.
Huelskamp beat LaPolice by 55 percent, however in Riley County LaPolice won with a 56 percent total.
Like Huelskamp, Gov. Sam Brownback also fought off discontent in the Republican Party and defeated Jennifer Winn with 63 percent of the vote. In Riley County, Brownback won with 61 percent of the vote. He will face Paul Davis in the general election on Nov. 4.
Sen. Pat Roberts beat challenger Milton Wolf with 48 percent of the vote. He did better in Riley County, where he won by 60 percent. Chad Taylor won on the Democratic side and will face Roberts this fall.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach defeated Scott Morgan handily with 65 percent of the vote to continue his re-election bid, though he won just 59 percent of Riley County’s vote.
Ken Selzer took the Republican race for insurance commissioner, and winning 28 percent of the vote in the five-person pool.
He’ll face Democrat Dennis Anderson. Selzer didn’t fair as well locally, though, where was third behind Clark Shultz and Beverly Gossage, who took the county total with 30 percent of the vote.
In the Pottawatomie County Commissioner race Dee McKee defeated Gary Yenzer 406-355.