This year's Republican primary season has been disheartening from beginning to end.
Republican candidates for top state offices seem determined to make this year's primary campaign a bizarre and unsettling experience from start to finish.
The comings and goings of Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall and House Speaker Kent Glasscock got the gubernatorial race off to an odd start. Once Glasscock settled on the lieutenant governor's slot on Wichita Mayor Bob Knight's ticket and Senate President Dave Kerr decided to make the race, the governor's contest was set with Kerr and Knight joining State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger and Eudoran Dan Bloom on the Republican ticket.
In another hotly contested race, Republicans David Adkins, Phill Kline and Charles McAtee all are vying for the nomination for attorney general. In both the AG's race and the governor's race, candidates began running television ads and making forum appearances to make themselves known to state voters. In most cases the candidates had civil exchanges about issues and qualifications for office.
But as the primary campaigns head into the final stretch, some of the candidates are changing their tactics. Rather than talking about issues, they are taking potshots and trying to dig up dirt on their opponents. Especially in the AG's race, candidates are calling in various big guns in the Republican Party to try to gain an edge.
In the governor's race, Shallenburger and Knight are going head to head on several issues, questioning each other's truthfulness and records. Their exchanges may be heated, but they are nowhere near as personal as the battle being waged between Adkins and Kline.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts announced that Kline's nomination for a U.S. attorney post had been rebuffed by President Bush. Stovall used that announcement as a springboard to call on Kline to make public the FBI background check that was conducted as part of his nomination process. Adkins has noted Kline has allowed his law licensed to lapse several times by not paying a renewal fee or completing required continuing education units.
For his part, Kline is attacking Adkins' business practices and drawing attention to a 1994 Kansas Supreme Court sanction against Adkins.
How does all of this activity help voters make a decision?
In both the governor's and AG's races, the candidates most on the attack are considered to be the front-runners in races they see as so tight that they must pull out all the stops to successfully win the nomination. But at what point does negative campaigning become counterproductive? When does it either turn voters against a candidate or turn them off from the campaign entirely?
Much of the conflict in the Republican primary also stems from the split between the moderate and conservative wings of the party. How much interparty sniping can take place without hurting whichever candidate carries the Republican banner into the general election?
It's disappointing to see two major statewide campaigns lapse into this kind of petty and personal campaign rhetoric. Such tactics obscure rather than clarify the issues and facts on which Kansans should base their votes.
Is it any wonder voters are having a hard time getting involved with state elections?