House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer may seem like a long shot in the 1998 governor's race, but anything can happen.
When he visited the Journal-World just before the 1998 session of the Kansas Legislature, House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer didn't sound like a candidate for governor.
Although he primarily was interested in promoting his agenda for the Legislature, he was willing to discuss Democratic prospects for the governor's race. It was obvious that Sawyer and other House Democrats were well-pleased with Gov. Bill Graves. In fact, coalitions of Democrats and moderate Republicans often were responsible for passing legislation proposed by Graves.
But partisan politics is partisan politics, so although it seemed obvious from Sawyer's comments that Democrats wouldn't be unhappy to see Graves re-elected, they also would need to field their own candidate -- just in case. That is, just in case a strong candidate challenged Graves in the Republican primary. If a conservative Republican like, say, David Miller, were successful in defeating Graves in the primary, Democrats would want to have a backup candidate to offer as an option in the general election.
Now, Sawyer finds himself in that role. The Wichita Democrat filed Tuesday for the governor's race. The only other announced Democratic candidate in the race is Topeka minister Fred Phelps.
The term ``sacrificial lamb'' is among those being used to describe Sawyer. He will be giving up his seat and his leadership role in the Kansas House in exchange for what appears to be a very outside chance at winning the governor's seat.
But Kansans don't have to look back many years to realize that stranger things have happened. In 1990, incumbent governor Mike Hayden won a tough Republican primary, but still was favored in the general election race -- especially because Democrat Joan Finney had knocked off former Gov. John Carlin in a hotly contested primary race. At this stage in the 1990 campaign, many observers probably thought Hayden was a shoo-in. Their outside shot probably would have been Carlin, but Finney?
Wounded by dissension in the GOP ranks, Hayden faced an uphill battle. Finney's grassroots support prevailed and she was elected in November.
This year, Graves still is the odds-on favorite, but Miller's grassroots organization also makes him a formidable candidate. Dissension within the GOP ranks again is a factor. A lot can happen between now and November. A Sawyer victory in November seems unlikely, but it would be no more shocking than the 1990 election of Finney as governor.
Sports announcers often remind fans that the possible upset by an underdog is the reason they play the game rather than declaring a winner on the basis of the teams' records. The same is true in politics. Sawyer would be silly not to view himself as a long shot in the 1998 governor's race, but he's decided to play out this political game. He knows -- and voters should remember -- that no election is over until the ballots are cast.