Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Race of the Day- Kansas Governor

77 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

For reasons that are not entirely known to me, first term GOP Governor Sam Brownback is in a world of political trouble in Kansas. He is certainly not the only incumbent Governor, of either party, to be suffering in such a way, but the extent of his vulnerability has come as quite a shock in the past couple of weeks. When all is said and done, the Republican nature of a Kansas midterm electorate may be enough to save him, but right now, he seems to be facing an uphill battle.

Brownback had spent many years on Capitol Hill before his election as Governor in 2010. The bulk of those were in the U.S. Senate, where he never really struggled at the ballot box. A well known social conservative, with an interest in foreign affairs, Brownback mounted a bid for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2007. Many thought he was someone to watch for in that field, but his candidacy never caught on and he left the race months before the first contest. Realizing that his ambition to be President was unlikely to ever be fulfilled, Brownback set his sights on another executive office job and easily won the Governorship of Kansas.

Is there something about all his years in Washington that have caused him to be an unpopular Governor at home, as we have seen for Governors in both parties with similar experience? Has he approached the Governorship as a being a consolation prize after failing as a Presidential candidate and thus lost his political mojo? Not being in the state, it is tough for me to say, but there has been a split going back some twenty years in Kansas between conservative and moderate Republicans. Brownback started out on the conservative side, then served as a unifying figure in the state for years. Now, it seems like both wings of the state GOP have issues with him. Overall though, it could be that the voters there identify him as caring more about social issues than the day to day grunt work of being Governor and dealing with the economy. A serious warning sign for Brownback occurred a few weeks back when 37 percent of his state's primary voters cast a ballot for someone who was not really a credible contender, and merely functioned as a protest vote for them. That shows that a top tier primary challenge would have likely toppled the incumbent this year.

The Democrats did not have a primary for Governor, having settled early on with backing State House Minority Leader Paul Davis. The people in the state may not know much about him other than he would be a departure from Brownback. He seems to have positioned himself as non-ideological moderate. While Kansas has become very reluctant to send Democrats to Washington D.C., they have elected them as Governor in recent cycles. Significantly, a very large group of Kansas Republicans, many of the high-profile variety, have openly endorsed the candidacy of the Democrat Davis. I will note that the most legendary Kansas Republican of the past several generations, Bob Dole, has remained loyal to the party and is backing Governor Brownback.

Both Gubernatorial nominees have running-mates which may potentially help them this year. Incumbent GOP Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer is a physician, who seems to be respected in the state. He recently gave a $500,000 loan to the ticket after they had struggled to raise a great deal of money. The Democrats seem to be well-funded and Davis selected businesswoman Jill Docking as his running-mate. She was once the party's nominee for the U.S. Senate and in many ways could be better known among the state's voters than Davis himself. She had also served  as chair of the state university system Board of Regents, was married to a Lt. Governor, who happened to be the son of grandson of Kansas Governors named Docking.

While a recent CBS/New York Times internet poll showed Brownback with healthy lead, other recent polls are showing Davis ahead. A Rasmussen poll last week put the challenger ahead by 10 points. A survey out today by a Democrat firm has Davis ahead, but by a narrower margin. It also shows that Brownback is helped somewhat slightly by the presence of the Libertarian nominee. That is usually not the case for Republicans, but it is showing the factor of those on the right who already decided they could not vote to reelect Brownback, having a non-Democrat option.

If Brownback can somehow nationalize this race and make it about Barack Obama and the national Democrat party, he will have a real chance to survive and win ugly. Needless to say, I hope that happens. Kansas does not seem to be moving to the left all of a sudden, but there are issues at place with Brownback (as well as the GOP U.S. Senator up for reelection) and the splits among Kansas Republicans are definitely hurting. He will need to a better job in unifying the party if he is to win, as well as touting his successes in office.

Paul Davis may just be in the right position at the right time against a politically weakened opponent. He probably would have little chance of winning any other statewide office but right now, I think he could be on his way to getting elected Governor of a very red state.

Brownback campaign link:


Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 5 D (1 Safe, 1 Leans, 3 Tossup) , 9 R (2 Safe, 2 Likely, 5 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 12 D, 16 R (net Republican gain of 1)


At 9:24 AM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Brownback wins narrowly: 50%-49%.


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