A hotly contested governor's race, three controversial bond issues and a host of tight state and local races will create what may be a record turnout in the Nov. 7 election, the leaders of Douglas County's Democratic and Republican parties say.
Chris Miller, GOP chairman, and Louise Silber, Democratic party chair, each offered that assessment when asked to give their impressions of the Nov. 6 general election and their estimates of voter turnout.
"I think it's going to be extremely high," Miller said. "I expect it to be one of the highest turnouts we've had in 10 or 15 years."
Miller and Silber attributed part of the voter interest to a governor's race that has seen Democratic challenger Joan Finney's lead shrink drastically over incumbent Gov. Mike Hayden, a Republican.
Miller predicted Hayden would win resoundingly in Douglas County.
"A while back, Joan Finney said this was her election to lose," Miller said. "And I think she has managed to do that. Mrs. Finney does not have much to offer and that has become apparent."
SILBER SAID that because local residents have misunderstood Finney's stand on abortion, Finney may indeed lose in Douglas County. Silber said she believes local residents think Finney is staunchly pro-life.
"She has said that neither she nor anyone on her staff would initiate regulations," Silber said. "She believes abortion is not a matter for regulation until the third trimester. It's not a radical position, and she's certainly not an activist in the area."
Silber believes Finney has enough "broad-based support" to win despite the Douglas County results.
Although the local party leaders disagreed about the outcome of the governor's race, Silber and Miller both said bond issue votes on the proposed south Lawrence trafficway, a second high school and the proposed eastern parkway will bring voters to the polls in large numbers.
Miller predicted that the trafficway may pass but that the other two projects would have less chance to succeed. And the trafficway could be voted down if enough county voters go to the polls, he said.
"MANY PEOPLE in the county I've talked to have a general perception that the bypass will only benefit the City of Lawrence," he said. "I think that's going to make it close, because county people vote religiously."
Silber agreed that the bond votes would be close. She said she thinks voters are aware of traffic and school overcrowding problems. But, she said, she doesn't know whether voters think the proposals on the roads and for a second high school are the correct solutions.
Although they stuck closely to party lines, and neither party leader would say any of their candidates is likely to be defeated, comments from Miller and Silber late last week indicated that:
Republican Atty. Gen. Robert Stephan leads Democrat Bert Cantwell in the attorney general's race.
In the race for 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, incumbent Jim Slattery, D-Topeka, has a strong lead. When asked whether he thought Republican challenger Scott Morgan of Lawrence could knock Slattery off, Miller said: "I think Scott Morgan will do well in Douglas County. I think he'll probably have the best showing against Jim Slattery that anybody has."
ONE OF THE MOST interesting races, Miller and Silber said, will be for the 44th District statehouse seat, a race that pits Democrat Barbara Ballard against GOP candidate Sandy Praeger. The party leaders said voter interest should be high because both women are recognized as community leaders with good governmental experience. Ballard has been a local school board member and Praeger has served on the city commission.
Another tight race, the two said, may be for the 1st District Douglas County Commission seat sought by Democratic candidate and Lawrence City Commissioner Mike Rundle and Planning Commissioner Mark Buhler, a Republican.
ALTHOUGH BOTH party leaders agree that Rundle has more name recognition, they said an important factor will be how district voters perceive Buhler's strong business ties.
"Mike represents the ordinary Douglas County resident," Silber said. "I think he (Buhler) would be more representative of the business community and the real estate community.''
Miller said he believes voters will view Buhler's business experience as a plus.
"I think you need to take a businesslike approach," he said. "I think people want county commissioners that are capable of arranging and organizing services and getting things done on time."