Archive for Monday, August 23, 2004

Analysis: Kobach campaign not quite dejvu

August 23, 2004

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— Voters in the 3rd Congressional District have been there before.

A conservative candidate wins the Republican nomination. Omens are favorable, partly because a presidential election seems likely to bring out the GOP faithful. The Republican candidate promises an aggressive campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore.

Kris Kobach, a 38-year-old former U.S. Justice Department official, is this year's nominee. Four years ago, it was Phill Kline, then a 40-year-old member of the Kansas House.

Kline, later elected attorney general, lost a close race in 2000 to Moore, who courted Republicans put off by Kline's conservative politics. Both Kline and Kobach believe that Kobach will succeed because, in Kline's words, "A lot of things have changed."

But the key question is the same: whether moderate and liberal Republicans will defect to Moore.

"They've done it in the past," said Carolyn McKnight, executive director of the Mainstream Coalition, a Johnson County group in near-constant conflict with conservatives. "It's a comfortable thing for them to do."

The GOP nominee also hopes for at least a small boost from President Bush's re-election campaign, given that Bush is considered to have a lock on carrying Kansas. In addition, between Kline's race and Kobach's contest, the 3rd District's boundaries were redrawn.

"The planets are aligned this year for Republicans to take the seat back," Kobach said during a recent interview.

The current district, drawn in 2002, is Johnson and Wyandotte counties and part of eastern Douglas county and Lawrence -- slightly more Republican than in 2000, when it included more of Douglas County and all of Miami County.

Some question whether Kobach has alienated moderate and liberal Republicans as much as Kline had prior to the 2000 general election campaign.

At first, it's hard to imagine how. Before 2000, Kline was the persistent conservative scourge of Gov. Bill Graves' moderate Republican administration. While Graves provided an endorsement in the name of party unity, that act didn't erase moderates' hard feelings.

Yet some moderates are smarting over Kobach's win because it torpedoed their favorite, Taff, who never really stopped campaigning after his narrow loss to Moore in 2002.

Also, Kobach, an attorney and constitutional law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, represents students who are suing the state to strike down a new law granting lower in-state tuition rates to some illegal immigrants -- a measure many moderate Republican legislators favored.

"Kline had been around longer and had more visibility," McKnight said. "But Kobach has created his own visibility."

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