Conservative Show of Strength in Kansas

Today is the filing deadline for political races in Kansas. The election season will get off to a fast start, with conservative Republicans planning to ...
by | June 9, 2008

Today is the filing deadline for political races in Kansas. The election season will get off to a fast start, with conservative Republicans planning to show up en masse with their slate of candidates at the secretary of state's office in Topeka.

If you don't follow Kansas politics, you may not be aware that, although the state is predominantly Republican, the GOP is split into distinct wings. Conservative Republicans have chipped away at the traditional advantages and power of the so-called moderates. As in most places, the difference between them is less about taxes and more about social issues.

At any rate, the conservatives have shown such a conservative face that they've created a lot of political space for the moderates -- and even for Democrats. Not only was Democrat Kathleen Sebelius re-elected as governor in 2006, but conservatives lost their sole statewide officeholder, state Attorney General Phill Kline.

Kline has since taken over his opponent's former job as district attorney in Johnson County. And Johnson County, a suburban Kansas City jurisdiction that is the state's largest and wealthiest, is where a lot of the action will be this year. Three state senators, out of seven representing the county, have opted not to run. That's set off a scramble among lower-level officeholders looking to move up.

Two of the replacements should reflect the general views of the current incumbents, says Senate President Steve Morris (a moderate), but one seat might switch. Conservative Sen. Nick Jordan is stepping down and Morris says that the moderate Republican candidate could win the primary, or the election might be won by a strong Democratic candidate.

That scenario illustrates one of the difficulties conservatives face. If they win primaries against moderate brethren, they run the risk of handing the district to Democrats. This depends on the district, of course, but Kansas Democrats under Sebelius have demonstrated a renewed ability to recruit strong candidates, raise real money and turn out their vote. Democrats will be further emboldened by big money races their candidates will run in the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts.

And then there's the Obama factor. "I suspect that Republicans are not going to be doing as well this particular cycle," says GOP state Sen. Jay Emler. "The get out the vote folks are probably going to be the Barack Obama folks. I think Obama is going to be good at getting out the young vote, which is more liberal."

Emler is a Republican. He rejects the "moderate" label, saying that he's a conservative and that some of his colleagues are "ultraconservatives." Be that as it may, Emler recognizes that "our ultraconservative friends" will be pushing hard to elect enough candidates to be able to pick next year's legislative leaders and says that this just might be the year things tip their way.


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