Carla Stovall, the sole announced moderate Republican candidate for Kansas governor, apparently is considering pulling out of the race.
News of her possible exit prompted a top-level meeting Tuesday of other moderate Republicans led by Gov. Bill Graves at Cedar Crest, the governor's mansion.
Officials driving past reporters as they left the early-evening meeting were mostly tight-lipped, but they provided some information.
"Carla Stovall is apparently reconsidering her decision to run for governor, and a few of us just got together this afternoon to talk about if that happened what the impact would be on the party," said Kansas Republican Party Chairman Mark Parkinson.
Others said Stovall, the state's attorney general, would make an announcement next week after she returns from a vacation in Ukraine.
Last to leave the meeting was House Speaker Kent Glasscock, the Manhattan Republican who first entered the governor's race, then became Stovall's running mate after his own campaign stalled.
"It gets curiouser and curiouser," Glasscock said.
If Stovall drops from the race, Glasscock probably is back in the race for the top job, he said.
"My inclination would be to re-engage the race," Glasscock said.
'Life has changed'
Glasscock said Stovall has "indicated to those close to her that her life has changed since she began the campaign."
He was referring to Stovall's new relationship with radio executive Larry Steckline, who apparently is on vacation with her.
Asked earlier Tuesday if the 45-year-old Stovall was getting married, Glasscock said, "I think that's a possibility."
Later in the day he said, "I don't know anything about her marital plans. If there's a change, I'm sure she'll let everybody know."
Glasscock said he had not spoken with Stovall for at least a week. He said the speculation about Stovall could be based on "rumors run amok when the candidate was out of the country."
Stovall could not be reached for comment.
Scott Holeman, her campaign spokesman, said Stovall left Saturday for the Ukraine and would return this weekend.
"I believe she had personal business and may have taken some vacation," Holeman said. He declined to answer further questions about the trip, saying Stovall was entitled to her personal life.
Holeman said to his knowledge Stovall was staying in the campaign. He said he had no knowledge about whether she was getting married.
He said he hadn't talked to Stovall in "probably a week."
Steckline, a widower, also is in the Ukraine, according to his office in Wichita.
The 60-year-old Steckline is a longtime fixture in Kansas broadcasting and agriculture. He owns Mid-America Ag Network, which last year paid $6 million for broadcast rights to Kansas State University football and basketball games.
The $6 million payment was nearly four times what Morris Communications Corp. had paid the year before.
Based in Wichita, Steckline's network provides state and regional agricultural news to 40 radio stations in Kansas and Nebraska. Steckline has been to Russia several times on trade missions.
Steckline's wife, Wah-leeta, 59, died Sept. 30, 2000, when a tractor she was operating overturned near the couple's farm. Steckline has three grown children.
His daughter, Anita Cochran, is news anchor at KSNW Channel 3 in Wichita.
Shallenburger shut out
State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, a conservative who hopes to be the GOP's gubernatorial nominee, called a 9:15 p.m. news conference to comment on the meeting at the governor's mansion.
He complained that he wasn't invited. He said he has been on the executive committee of the state GOP for eight years but that the party hierarchy's only interest seemed to be in finding a candidate to oppose him.
Shallenburger lives near Cedar Crest. "I wouldn't have had to break a sweat to get over there," he said.
Shallenburger said he hoped Stovall does whatever makes her happy.
"Ever since she entered the race, we wondered how motivated she was," Shallenburger said. "I think (moderate leaders) talked her into running."
Rumors about Stovall's plans began circulating early Tuesday. As news of the meeting at Cedar Crest spread, reporters gathered outside.
In addition to Graves, Parkinson and Glasscock, others at the meeting included former Senate President Dick Bond, Jack Ranson, a former Republican national committeeman and his wife, former state Sen. Pat Ranson; House Appropriations Chairman Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing; Joyce Glasscock, wife of Kent Glasscock and Graves' secretary of administration; and Kelly Levi, who serves as campaign manager for the Stovall-Glasscock campaign.
Stovall, 45, was first elected attorney general in 1994, after serving on the Kansas Parole Board and as Crawford County attorney. She won re-election in 1998 with more than 75 percent of the vote.
If Stovall did drop out of the race, it would represent a second change in her plans for the coming election. In late 2000, she said she did not plan to seek a third term as attorney general or run for governor, and that she would take a job in the private sector.
But six days after Sept. 11, 2001, Stovall said the terrorist attacks led her to reconsider her decision to leave public service. Two months later, she was in the race.
By that time, moderate Republican allies of Graves considered Stovall their strongest candidate for the nomination.
Shallenburger was considered the conservatives' candidate, but Wichita Mayor Bob Knight's entry into the Republican race prevented it from becoming strictly a contest between the GOP's two feuding wings.
Still considering the Republican race is Senate President Dave Kerr of Hutchinson. He said he won't announce his decision until after the Legislature ends its session.
The only announced Democratic candidate is Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius.