Kansas 2nd District
The green plains of eastern Kansas have seen more than their share of American history. In 1827, on bluffs above the Missouri River, settlers built Fort Leavenworth, famous in later years for its war college and military prison and now the oldest U.S. fort west of the Mississippi. In the 1850s, newly founded towns along the Kansas River and along the Missouri border were the centers of Bleeding Kansas, the name the state took after pro-slavery bushwhackers set up a state capital in tiny Lecompton and anti-slavery New Englanders established their stronghold down the river at Lawrence.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Farther up the river is Manhattan, home of Kansas State University, and Fort Riley, once an outpost against Indians, then a major Army base. In 2005, the Pentagon designated Fort Riley the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division—the “Big Red One.” Topeka, the state capital, sits on a low bluff above the river; the city’s system of legal segregation prompted the 1954 landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. Farther south, on the Missouri border, are the hills called “the Balkans,” where coal miners of Eastern European origin lived in and near towns such as Pittsburg and Girard that were once a center of American socialism. Clarence Darrow and Upton Sinclair made pilgrimages to the area, and the local paper, Appeal to Reason, had a circulation of 750,000 across the nation. Population loss is not as great here as in western Kansas. The area around Lawrence has been growing as, in effect, the perimeter of metropolitan Kansas City. Coal-bed methane gas wells have provided an economic boost to southeast Kansas.
These disparate areas, Topeka and Manhattan, Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth, the wheat-growing counties and the Balkans—most of eastern Kansas except the Kansas City metropolitan area—make up the 2nd Congressional District. The heritage of most of this area has been Republican ever since the jayhawks defeated the bushwhackers once the votes were counted honestly in the 1850s. Yet in recent decades, Democrats have been competitive in state races, especially in Topeka. For 20 of the years from 1970 to 1994, Democrats held the 2nd District seat. In the following dozen years, it voted for conservative Republicans, usually by comfortable margins.