A new poll shows U.S. Rep. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and State Treasurer Sally Thompson are running neck-and-neck for the U.S. Senate.
Stunning political observers, a Journal-World statewide poll shows that U.S. Rep. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is in a virtual dead heat with Democratic State Treasurer Sally Thompson for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan.
"A lot of people had conceded that race to Roberts," said Allan Cigler, a Kansas University professor of political science and government.
"The closeness of the race does surprise me," Cigler said.
The poll was conducted for the Journal-World and other Kansas media outlets by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research Inc., Washington, D.C.
Among likely voters polled, Roberts won the support of 37 percent of the respondents to Thompson's 35 percent; 28 percent were undecided. The margin of error of the poll was plus or minus 3.5 percent, which means they are in a statistical tie.
Safety in numbers?
Roberts was thought to have the advantage because Republicans outnumber Democrats statewide and because Kansans haven't elected a Democrat to the Senate since the 1930s.
But the J-W poll shows Roberts is trailing Thompson in three of the state's four congressional districts.
Roberts' best showing was in his own western Kansas 1st District, where he had 56 percent support to Thompson's 35 percent, with 28 percent undecided.
In the 3rd District, which includes Lawrence and most of Douglas County, Thompson led with 34 percent to Roberts' 26 percent, with 40 percent undecided.
"Roberts will have to work on his statewide name recognition," Cigler said.
Cigler said the poll, which was taken Monday through Wednesday, will be a shot in the arm for Thompson's fund-raising efforts.
"I think Democrats will be extremely encouraged by that result," Cigler said. "I suspect that Democrats will start seeing the Kassebaum race as the place to invest their money. I have a hunch these results should encourage a variety of Democrats to contribute to that campaign."
Del Ali, vice president of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research, attributed the Roberts-Thompson results to the lack of media attention to that race.
"Both candidates have very low name recognition," Ali said. "Outside of Roberts' district, no one really knows who he is."
Ali said pollsters were stumped by Roberts' relatively high "unfavorable" rating -- 28 percent.
"Clearly, there is nothing he has done that would cause that type of unfavorables," Ali said.
So pollsters attributed it to his name being mistaken for Pat Robertson, the television evangelist and one-time Republican presidential candidate.
"If you say Pat Roberts real quick, it can come across as Pat Robertson," Ali said.
Leroy Towns, Robert's campaign chairman said the name confusion with Pat Robertson, the evangelist, has haunted Roberts since 1980.
"It's a simple thing. A member of Congress is real well-known in his district and you've got three other districts you've got to get known in," Towns said. "We have plans to do that and are confident we will be very successful."
Towns said Roberts' own polling has shown Roberts to have higher numbers statewide when those surveyed were given brief, neutral biographies of Roberts and Thompson.
'Not really relevant'
Ted Miller, press secretary for Thompson's campaign, was elated with the J-W poll results.
"But right now, polls are not really relevant," Miller said. "It's become a clear contest between Washington, D.C., and Kansas. ... This will be a very competitive, hotly contested race."
Ali said most of the state's attention has been on the battle to serve out the remaining two years of Bob Dole's former U.S. Senate seat, which now is held by U.S. Sen. Sheila Frahm, the state's former lieutenant governor.
Frahm, who was sworn in on June 11, is a moderate, pro-choice Republican who was appointed by Gov. Bill Graves, a fellow moderate Republican. She will hold the seat at least until January.
The J-W poll shows that among likely Republican voters, Frahm leads her chief GOP rival, U.S. Rep. Brownback, a conservative pro-life Republican, by 13 points, with a plus or minus 5.3 percent margin of error.
However, Brownback is by no means out of the race if he can raise money and mobilize Christian conservative voters to come to the polls for the Aug. 6 primary, Ali said.
"A lot can happen in a month, particularly in a candidate that has two important ingredients: money and a base that is energized," Ali said.
The key to the Brownback-Frahm race is going to be voter turnout, Ali said.
"A lower turnout is going to be much better for Brownback, because his voters are motivated Christian conservatives, Ralph Reed types that loathe moderate Republicans as much as they do Bill Clinton," Ali said. "If Brownback has money, this race will become very interesting."
The Finney factor
In the Democratic primary race for the Dole seat, former Gov. Joan Finney is in a virtual tie with Jill Docking, Wichita. Docking is the wife of former Lt. Gov. Tom Docking.
Ali noted that Finney's unfavorable rating is high -- 44 percent -- and "she in a dead heat with an unknown, and that shows an awful lot."
"Docking probably would give the Democrats their best shot, simply because she has no baggage," Ali said.
The poll figures show that both Finney and Docking are behind when matched against either Frahm or Brownback.
Cigler said that could mean trouble for Finney or Docking's campaign war chests. Democrats might decide the best place to invest their money is in Thompson's campaign against Roberts, Cigler said.