Midterm Races in Kansas

Who would have thought that Kansas would be a political battleground in 2014, but here we are with both the Republican Governor and incumbent Republican Senator endangered.  For [mc_name name=’Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000307′ ], the trouble began in the GOP primary with him taking serious criticisms for his lack of presence in Kansas and being portrayed as a Washington insider who lost touch with his constituents.  If true, then it would also be true in a general campaign.

The problem for the Democrats in Kansas is that despite someone occasionally rising to the top (like former Governor Kathleen Sebelius), their bench is very weak in the state.  That is why Chad Taylor won the Democratic primary- a relatively weak opponent by most measures despite the criticisms on Roberts.  And so ensued the political intrigue story of the year.  Democratic interference in the Mississippi GOP primary and runoff was one thing, but in Kansas we are dealing with the general election.  Taylor, realizing he had no chance in hell of winning, withdrew from the race only to have his name reinstated by the state secretary of state only to have his name removed again by a court.  In polling against Roberts, Taylor was performing dismally.

Enter independent Greg Orman who was, at the time, actually surging in the polls and had moved ahead of Taylor.  This illustrated two facts: (1) the damage inflicted on Roberts in the primary by Milton Wolf was palpable and having an effect in the general campaign and (2) Chad Taylor was a very weak candidate and unable to take advantage of those apparent weaknesses in Roberts.

However, the problem for Orman is his coy behavior on the campaign trail which is turning into a liability if the polls are any indication.  He is holding himself out to be neither Democratic nor Republican when everyone knows damn well he will side with the Democrats.  That is why some people who tacitly endorsed Wolf over Roberts in the primary are now running to Kansas to endorse Roberts.  For me, the better solution would have been to avoid all this drama and gone with Milton Wolf from the beginning.  In that case, being open, Taylor would have remained in the race and Orman would be a footnote in Kansas political history.  But, that is not to be.  It needs to be noted that it was not until August that Orman saw an appreciable increase in his chances against Roberts.

Given this drama as a background, the recent surge by Roberts in encouraging.  Through September, he was consistently down in the polls but recent ones have put him slightly in the lead.  This race- for the GOP- looked dim a mere month ago.  Partly because of backing by GOP heavyweights of every stripe and partly because of Orman’s coy campaign behavior, there is light at the end of the tunnel that was not there a month ago.  With the caveat that I will revisit this race at the end of the series, I am predicting a narrow victory for Roberts which goes against the grain of most political pundits.

The congressional delegation is 4-0 Republican and will remain that way although some Democrats think they have a chance in either the 2nd or 3rd Districts based on upon weaknesses at the top of the ticket.  They may be closer than usual for Republicans in Kansas, but all four incumbents will prevail.

I wish I could say the same about the gubernatorial race where Sam Brownback faces a tough road to reelection.  What is unusual about this race is the sheer number of Republican politicians from Kansas and elsewhere endorsing his Democratic opponent Paul Davis.  The national mainstream media is attempting to portray this as a voter backlash against tax-cutting GOP policies.  However, there are other dynamics in the state that explain Brownback’s declining popularity and threats to his reelection.

Although clearly a red state, Kansas has been known to be home to some progressive/liberal movements in the past.  The red streak is one that does not run as deep as most think.  Set against this background, it makes sense they would elect a Kathleen Sebelius as Governor.  In fact, look at the list of Kansas Governors in the past and they obviously alternate between the parties with regular frequency.  And unlike other states, the incumbent is readily voted out.  This “backlash” against Brownback is not a statement on tax-cutting Republicans, but a natural tendency in Kansas.  Even still, recent polling puts Brownback improving of late.  This would indicate that the Kansas electorate is having second thoughts about shifting course and electing Davis.

However, it is my opinion that Brownback may have dug himself too deeply into a hole that making a comeback to electoral victory is slightly beyond reality.  At this point, I am predicting a Davis victory on the order of less than 5 points.

Next: North Carolina

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