A political novice who rode his profile as an outsider-adventurer to the Republican nomination in a competitive Kansas congressional district is facing scrutiny about some of the biographical details he shares with voters.
Steve Watkins' campaign website featured a since-removed testimonial to his 'heroic leadership' when a deadly earthquake shook Mount Everest during an expedition. He has acknowledged inaccurately claiming that he started a Middle East business, expanding it from three to 470 people. And there are doubts about Watkins' self-description as a devoted, sixth-generation Kansan.
Even before Watkins won the crowded primary to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins in eastern Kansas' 2nd District, some fellow Republicans were skeptical. One former GOP foe, state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, called him 'a charlatan, a fraud and an opportunist,' though he now won't criticize him.
As he campaigns in Kansas' 2nd District, Watkins faces questions about what he's telling voters about racing in Alaska's famed Iditarod dogsled race and attempting to scale Mount Everest in 2015
Watkins' campaign website calls him 'an accomplished athlete and explorer,' citing his 2015 attempt to be the first person to race in the Iditarod and scale Mount Everest in the same year.
In that year's 1,000-mile dogsled race as a rookie, he finished 58th out of 78. Watkins started the race in March 2018 but didn't finish.
His 2015 expedition on the world's tallest mountain was cut short by an earthquake in Nepal that killed nearly 8,900 people. Watkins' website previously quoted Everest outfitter Guy Cotter as saying he relied on Watkins' 'heroic leadership amid the chaos.' Watkins said it was in response to his calm and the moral support he offered his group of stranded climbers.
Cotter told The Associated Press that he never said it and was unaware Watkins had put the quote on his campaign website. It was removed after the AP questioned Watkins about Cotter's comments.
'There was not really anything heroic to be able to do,' Cotter said in a phone interview from New Zealand. 'We all felt quite hopeless ... because we were not there, where all the injured and dying people were, through that event. We were actually up on the mountain, so there was very little we could contribute.'
Watkins said that he was praised for his heroism when he helped stranded climbers on Mount Everest, but some say that is a lie
Watkins' campaign website calls him 'an accomplished athlete and explorer,' citing his 2015 attempt to be the first person to race in the Iditarod but he never finished the race
Watkins said: 'I captured the statement, to the best of my memory. He and I spoke frequently and often when we were up there, and he shared the sentiment.'
As for the Iditarod, four-time winner Jeff King saw Watkins' entry this year as a stunt for his political campaign and Watkins' self-portrayal as an adventurer as a 'gigantic fallacy.'
Musher Tara Cicatello was at the back of the pack with Watkins, and both were forced to quit 11 days into the contest because they were so far behind. She said Watkins' chief concern after being forced to withdraw was the publicity he had lined up. He was on the phone