Kansas University Professor Burdett Loomis says the Kansas gubernatorial race isn't about property taxes, abortion, education or the death penalty.
"Rather this campaign is about, and almost totally about, Joan Finney's capacity to serve competently as governor of Kansas," Loomis said Wednesday.
"If the verdict is clearly yes, then she wins. If the verdict is clearly no, she loses," he said.
Loomis, professor of political science, reviewed the race between Democratic Treasurer Finney and Republican Gov. Mike Hayden at the weekly University Forum sponsored by Ecumenical Christian Ministries.
He said Hayden and his supporters have succeeded in framing the campaign with the competency issue. The tactic has erased Finney's lead in the polls.
THE GOVERNOR'S comeback was achieved despite his vulnerability on many issues and a negative rating among voters that hovered around 40 percent, Loomis said.
"To take advantage of Hayden's negatives, which are really substantial, requires some minimum skill and the ability to move on the offense," the professor added.
Loomis said that Finney neither articulated her vision nor sustained attacks on Hayden's record, and must shoulder blame for a weak effort to oust the governor.
"Finney has certainly been her own worst enemy. A few major gaffes, 100 minor ones. Finney contributed some to her own demise. Without that, she's a winner," he said.
LOOMIS SAID the Hayden campaign's strategy has been to:
Encourage Finney to speak frequently in spontaneous televised debates.
Use surrogates, such as former Gov. Bob Bennett, to attack Finney's competence.
Challenge Finney's policies by questioning her grasp of state government.
Keep Hayden off the front line on the competency issue, limiting him to veiled criticism.
Make certain journalists covering the campaign pick up on the competency theme.
ASKED BY an audience member to predict who will win the Tuesday's election, Loomis said his gut reaction was that Hayden would defeat Finney.
However, he said Finney might still win if Hayden made a major political mistake or if Finney gave the electorate a good reason to vote for her.
"Hayden hasn't really done much," he said. "Hayden's best claim to election is `I'm not Joan Finney.' But the Finney issue may be, I'd say probably will be, enough."
Loomis said the strongest potential gubernatorial candidate in the state this year was U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., who nearly entered the Democratic primary.
VOTER dissatisfaction with both major party candidates indicated a strong independent candidate could have had a big impact on the 1990 race for governor, he said.
Loomis said John Carlin, upset in the primary by Finney, could have won the nomination by running a more active campaign and attacking Finney's anti-abortion platform.
"He was going to save himself, save his resources, be clever, be smart and wait until after the primary. I didn't sense a great drive in the primary to really go out and do it."