Political Experts Recap Contentious Kansas Campaigns

Dec 12, 2014

While Kansas had other high profile campaigns in 2014, the race for U.S. Senate in Kansas was so unusual that it attracted a lot of attention. Political staffers and experts weighed in Thursday on that and the governor’s race as part of a panel by the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts had a bitter primary battle and won with less than 50 percent of the vote. Jim Jonas, with the campaign of independent candidate Greg Orman, says that gave them a boost.
 
“It instantly gave us traction to be able to do raise money, raise awareness and talk about what we want to talk about. And it turned it into ‘hey, we’ve got a damaged incumbent who’s vulnerable,’” says Jonas.

The U.S. Senate race gets national attention

Another big shakeup came not long after when the Democrat running for the Senate, Chad Taylor, dropped out.

A staffer with the Roberts campaign, Sean Fitzpatrick, says Taylor dropping out helped the Republicans. Fitzpatrick and others argued there were “shenanigans” that led to Taylor dropping out to help Orman.
 
“It really nationalized the race. That was the tipping point in the race to a large degree. It brought a lot of national attention, it brought a lot of national money into the race and it also woke up Kansans who said ‘they’re trying to swindle us here,’” says Fitzpatrick.

The chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, Joan Wagnon, says she was as surprised as anyone that Taylor dropped out. She says any pressure on Taylor to drop out to help Orman didn’t come from her or other state party leaders.
 
“Was that the leadership of the Democratic Party? No, it wasn’t. Some of the people in Washington--Claire McCaskill and others--may have been involved in some of those calls, but it wasn’t any of our shop,” says Wagnon.
 
Ultimately, Roberts won big in the race, with a 10-point victory over Orman.

A battle for moderates in the governor’s race

Governor Sam Brownback won a second term with a much smaller margin. He got 50 percent of the vote, but finished just four points ahead of Democrat Paul Davis.
 
James Roberts worked on the Davis Campaign. He believes the Kansas electorate overall is moderate. The Davis campaign tried to paint Brownback as too conservative because of policies like the tax cuts he pushed for.
 
“We saw that as a divergence from what Kansans were used to. And Kansans felt that way. We saw the inverse tug-of-war push us towards the ‘liberal Lawrence lawyer,’” says Roberts.  
 
Mark Dugan, with Brownback’s campaign, says editorial pages had attacked Brownback for large, significant policy changes, but the campaign decided to stand behind those policies.

Dugan says they looked at how Davis had voted during his time in the Legislature to lay out what Dugan calls a clear choice between Brownback and Davis.

“The governor certainly embraced his conservatism, and so we made the case that Paul Davis was slightly left of center, and that was made basically by his record,” says Dugan.
 
Davis was sometimes criticized for not giving enough specifics about what he’d do in office. Dugan says they built and released a complete policy proposal for Brownback’s second term.

Kansas City Star reporter Dave Helling says independent Greg Orman and Democrat Paul Davis both faced a similar challenge.

“Their opponents both linked them--Greg Orman and Paul Davis--directly with a deeply unpopular incumbent president. And it stuck,” says Helling.
 
The Dole Institute’s continues its look at the 2014 election Friday with two panels focusing on national races.