Conservative groups failed Tuesday in a coordinated effort to unseat several moderate House Republicans.
The Kansas Chamber and Americans for Prosperity-Kansas funded direct-mail campaigns against Reps. Barbara Bollier, Mission Hills; Stephanie Clayton, Overland Park; Blaine Finch, Ottawa; Russ Jennings, Lakin; Tom Sloan, Lawrence; and Kent Thompson, Iola.
The fliers charged that the moderates had helped advance President Obama’s “radical agenda” by voting against measures to block parts of the Affordable Care Act and repeal the state’s renewable energy standards.
Despite a flood of negative mail in the final weeks of the campaign, all of the targeted members survived their primary challenges, according to final but unofficial results. Several won by wide margins.
Jennings, a former commissioner of the Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority running for a second term in the House, was singled out for his leadership of a coalition of Republicans and Democrats that beat back several attempts to repeal the state’s renewable energy standards.
He said the standards, which require utilities to generate a certain amount of their power from renewable sources, are largely responsible for the development of wind farms in his district and across the state.
“I was punished for voting my district,” Jennings said. “I was No. 1 on their hit list. But I stood my ground for the people of my district, and they got it.”
Jennings garnered 65 percent of the vote in his win over challenger Stan Rice.
Clayton, Finch, Sloan and Thompson all received 60 percent or more in their wins. Bollier received 59 percent in her victory over challenger Neil Melton, a Prairie Village banker.
The moderates got help from several organizations formed to counter the influence of AFP and the chamber, both of which have ties to Wichita-based Koch Industries.
The Kansas Values Institute and the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority political action committee spent thousands of dollars on mailers defending the moderates and criticizing their opponents. One targeting Neil Melton, the Prairie Village banker who challenged Bollier, said he would be nothing more than “another yes man” for lobbyists seeking to dismantle Medicare and cut funding for schools to pay for “more corporate tax breaks.”
The results of this year’s House races sharply contrast with those recorded two years ago in a host of Senate primaries, when the same conservative groups succeeded in defeating several moderate Republicans, including Senate President Steve Morris.
Asked to explain the turnabout, Jennings said, “I think voters may very well have some buyer’s remorse about what happened two years ago.”
Jeff Glendening, executive director of AFP-Kansas, said in an interview before the election that the organization’s mail campaigns don’t advocate the election or defeat of particular candidates. Their purpose, he said, is to educate voters about how their representatives are voting on issues critical to preserving the free market and limiting the size and cost of government.
“It’s about getting our issues out,” he said.
Many conservative House incumbents hung on to their seats, but a couple did not.
Voters in Geary County didn’t return Allan Rothlisberg for a second term. He lost to Lonnie Clark of Junction City. Clark will face Democrat Tom Brungardt, of Milford, in the November general election.
Also, it appeared that Josh Powell won’t be returning for a second term. Unofficial but final results showed him trailing Topeka attorney Fred Patton by 34 votes. If that margin holds, Patton will face Democrat Christine Huntsman in November for the right to represent that 50th District.
Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute.