Topeka Kansas Board of Education candidates who supported science standards that de-emphasize evolution were defeated in two GOP primaries Tuesday and trailed in a third. Another supporter was leading in a fourth race.
Linda Holloway, who supported the new standards as board chairwoman last year and spent thousands in her re-election campaign, lost to Sue Gamble 60 percent to 40 percent.
Holloway said she was surprised by her loss, which she attributed to criticism of the board's decision.
"Unfortunately, I guess propaganda still works," she said.
Gamble saw her election as a rejection of the standards.
"I think it's a validation of parents and other community people speaking for their schools and quality education," Gamble said.
Incumbent Mary Douglass Brown, who supported the standards, was defeated by Carol Rupe, who opposed the board's decision, by 52 percent to 48 percent.
However, Steve Abrams, who helped write the standards, was leading Roger Rankin, who campaigned against the standards, 62 percent to 38 percent with 82 percent of the vote counted.
In another race, moderate Bruce Wyatt led Brad Angell 57 percent to 43 percent, with 82 percent of the vote counted. Angell supports the standards, while Wyatt wants to change them. They are vying for the seat vacated by a member who voted for the standards.
It was the first time voters got a chance to decide whether the standards approved last year should cost board members their jobs. Holloway, Abrams and Brown, conservatives who voted for the standards, were challenged by moderates who opposed the decision.
Not all 10 seats on the board are up for re-election this year, but Tuesday's votes could help tip the balance on the board, which voted 6-4 last year to approve the standards.
In the Nov. 7 general election, the primary winners will face Democrats who oppose the standards.
The standards, which school districts do not have to follow, play down the importance of evolution and omit the big-bang theory of the universe's origin. They also provide the basis for statewide student assessment tests to be introduced next spring.
Critics argue that the move makes the state look backward, but proponents say it lets local school districts decide what to teach. Some of those who have attacked the teaching of evolution believe in creationism.
The issue drew international attention and generated unprecedented campaign contributions.
It also created rifts in the Kansas Republican Party by becoming the new litmus test of whether someone is conservative or moderate.
In past years, Board of Education candidates could spend less than $500 on a primary race and stand a chance of getting elected.
In one of the most hotly contested races this year, Holloway raised more than $74,000 in cash contributions, loaned herself $15,000 and then spent $35,000 on TV ads to defend her vote for the standards.
Gamble, her opponent in the suburban Kansas City district, pledged to vote to reverse the board's decision if elected. She raised about $35,000.
The theory of evolution, developed by Charles Darwin and other thinkers, holds that the Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over hundreds of millions of years.
Creationism maintains that evolution cannot be proven and that the Earth and most life forms came into existence suddenly about 6,000 years ago, largely as described in the Bible.