Archive for Thursday, October 22, 1998

CONGRESSIONAL CONTEST SPICES BLASE ELECTION, KU EXPERTS SAY

October 22, 1998

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KU's resident election gurus on Wednesday said the 3rd Congressional District race is the only one attracting voters' attention.

Aside from the bout between 3rd District U.S. Rep. Vince Snowbarger and Lenexa attorney Dennis Moore, the 1998 election season has been strangely boring, two Kansas University experts on politics told a campus audience Wednesday.

The battle between Moore and Snowbarger is the only real "horse race" close to home, said Burdett Loomis, KU professor of political science. The highly publicized contest "is a fascinating opportunity to look at a whole variety of ways that contemporary politics spins out."

Loomis and his co-author on two text books, Allan Cigler, also a KU professor of political science, spoke on election issues to about 50 people gathered for a University Forum at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread.

In this year's state races, Loomis said Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall and Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius would likely cruise to victories. The potential of Stovall and Sebelius squaring off in a 2002 governor's election "would be a race I would pay to see," he added.

The term "race" doesn't seem to apply in this year's gubernatorial campaign, Loomis said.

"Clearly Bill Graves will win and he'll win by a lot," he said. "But I would suggest that very lack of competition has allowed Sawyer and Graves to talk about things in a very conversational way."

In the 3rd Congressional District, the race will be decided in Wyandotte County, the district's only heavily Democratic area.

"That's the good news" for Moore, Loomis said. "The bad news is they just don't vote."

Considering that the average cost to beat a congressional incumbent rose from $400,000 in 1992 to $1 million in 1996, money has become the chief commodity of political survival.

Moore and Snowbarger will raise about $1 million apiece, Loomis said. Those funds have been used by both camps to purchase bitingly critical advertisements aired on area television and radio stations.

In general, Loomis said, it's a "page right out of the contemporary political playbook" -- use focus groups and polling, pump money into a serious media campaign and work nonstop in the last few days to get people to the polls.

With less than two weeks before the election, incumbent Snowbarger and challenger Moore are running 50-50 in most polls, Loomis said.

But polls do not always accurately portray voters' attitudes, Cigler noted.

"Certain elements of our population don't quite tell the truth to pollsters," Cigler said. "But we'll see on Election Day."

By Election Day, final fund-raising tallies will become clearer, too. Although the "largely irrelevant" campaign finance laws mean those figures won't accurately reflect the totals, Cigler said.

Why? An elaborate system of disclosure proposed in the 1970s was never fully put into operation, he said, and the courts have gradually thrown out a number of provisions, such as the limit on candidates' ability to contribute to their own campaigns.

In addition, Congress in 1979 began allowing "soft money" to be gathered at the federal level and distributed to the various states for so-called "party building." Today, these funds and other independent monies are being used to finance waves of attack advertisements and fliers, independent from the candidates.

"We don't know where the money comes from," Cigler said. "The candidates lose control of their agenda."

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is mgowen@ljworld.com.

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