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Kevin Yoder, Kansas Congressman, Likely To Survive Skinny-Dipping Scandal

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Rep. Kevin Yoder appears likely to win a second term in Congress despite his swimming escapade.
Rep. Kevin Yoder appears likely to win a second term in Congress despite his swimming escapade.

Rep. Kevin Yoder, the Kansas Republican who admitted to skinny-dipping during an official trip to Israel, is likely to win reelection in November, running against only a little-known Libertarian opponent.

Several longtime observers of Kansas politics still expect Yoder to easily defeat Joel Balam, a college professor, court translator and chaplain who is not familiar to most voters. In July, the Kansas City Star reported that Yoder had $1.2 million in campaign cash on hand, while Balam had raised less than $2,000.

Yoder, who has apologized for his behavior during last year's trip for Republican freshmen members of Congress, has no Democratic challenger in his Kansas City-area district. The seat had previously been held by a Democrat, former Rep. Dennis Moore, who retired in 2010 after 12 years in Congress. His wife, Stephanie, lost to Yoder in the 2010 race. Moore was the last Democrat to serve in Kansas' congressional delegation.

While Democratic Party insiders say that several candidates expressed interest in the race, the delay in setting new congressional districts -- the lines were not finalized until June -- hampered recruitment efforts against Yoder. The Republican-controlled state legislature could not agree on new boundaries for its own and congressional districts due to the bitter civil war between moderate and conservative Republicans. Control of the final map ended up with the federal courts.

Although Democrats are not challenging Yoder at the ballot box, they are calling on him to step down. Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon released a statement Monday saying that as a Kansan, she is "embarrassed" by Yoder's "unprofessional and immature behavior" and "childish antics."

"Rep. Kevin Yoder's grave error of judgment calls into question whether he is fit to serve Kansas and our nation. It is beyond inappropriate for a sitting congressman, acting in his official capacity, to strip naked in the presence of other congressmen and their families," Wagnon said. "Rep. Yoder should step down immediately and not subject Kansas to any further embarrassment.”

Yoder's swimming escapade occurred in August 2011 following dinner at a restaurant near the Sea of Galilee, Politico reported Sunday night. Spouses and the daughter of another congressman were in attendance. While several lawmakers jumped into the sea, Yoder was the only to get naked.

During a call-in interview on the Steve Kraske Show on Monday, Yoder expressed regret over the incident and apologized. While Politico reported that an FBI investigation into the incident found members of Congress had been drinking, he said alcohol did not play a role.

"It was a spontaneous moment at the Sea of Galilee," Yoder said.

The lawmaker kept a low profile on Monday, not attending a panel discussion with the rest of the state's federal delegation at the annual Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association convention in Wichita. A convention attendee said it was announced that Yoder was returning from an international trip and could not make the convention. A staffer in Yoder's Washington office said the congressman told the association two weeks ago he would not be there, but the staffer did not explain why he was missing the event. Kansas' two senators and three other members of Congress were at the convention.

Balam told HuffPost that he is concerned about Yoder's behavior in Israel and that he expects members of Congress abroad to behave in a proper fashion. Balam, who is making the national debt and the price of gas his top issues, said he believes he was competitive with Yoder even before the skinny-dipping story. He was surprised, however, that the Democrats did not field a candidate.

"I did not expect that," he said. "That opens up a good possibility for me."

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