Archive for Monday, October 18, 2004

Battle for 3rd District seat more partisan this year

October 18, 2004


— Devin Sherwood is a registered Republican but says he is likely to vote for Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore's re-election.

Republicans have tried to defeat Moore by holding onto moderates like Sherwood, who favors abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, but Moore won the GOP-leaning 3rd District in 1998 by courting those same moderates.

This year, Republican challenger Kris Kobach appears to be defying convention and relying on staunch, partisan Republicans in his effort to oust Moore.

"Demographics are destiny for Dennis Moore," Kobach said in a recent interview. "Eventually, he will not be able to hold this seat. I intend to make that happen."

Kobach argues that Moore is more vulnerable this year than in the past because of a surge in registered GOP voters in Johnson County, which anchors the district.

Although Kobach said he's not ignoring moderates, some of them don't think he's courting them aggressively either. They point to Kobach's raising immigration policy issues, including attacking Moore for not supporting the use of National Guard troops along U.S. borders.

Too liberal, too conservative

Criticized by Kobach for being too liberal, Moore counters that Kobach is too conservative for the district. Moore argues that voters see him as a centrist and are comfortable with him, even if the majority are Republicans.

"I think that's what people out here want -- not somebody who's going to be a partisan," Moore said during an interview.

The 3rd District covers Johnson and Wyandotte counties and parts of Douglas County. Two years ago, Moore received 50 percent of the vote against GOP nominee Adam Taff, who got 47 percent.

Kobach, a former U.S. Justice Department official, narrowly defeated Taff in this year's GOP primary, after Kobach defined himself as the conservative candidate and won the endorsement of the state's largest anti-abortion group.

Moore raised nearly $1.9 million for his re-election through Sept. 31, compared to about $868,000 for Kobach. Yet the race still is perceived as close, because Kobach can count on conservatives' support.

Changing demographics

Kobach is right about Johnson County's growth and its Republican tilt.

According to U.S. Census bureau estimates, Johnson County added more than 10,000 residents in 2003. The number of registered voters has increased by 22,000 since the beginning of this year, and more than 12,600 of them are Republicans.

But state Democratic Chairman Larry Gates, an Overland Park attorney, said it's a "quantum leap" to assume that every Republican automatically will vote for Kobach.

"I still think it's a moderate district," he said.

Kobach already has won over Cindy Trug, an Olathe preschool teacher who laughingly calls herself a "wishy washy Republican." Trug supported Taff in the primary but says she plans to vote for Kobach because she wants a fresh face in Congress.

"I think Dennis Moore has been in office too long," she said.

However, Moore's support for abortion rights is swaying Sherwood, who said, "Social issues are important."

'Conservative foot-soldiers'

Meanwhile, some moderates question whether Kobach is trying to appeal to them, with the debate over immigration policy an important factor, said state Sen. David Adkins, a Leawood Republican often at odds with conservatives.

Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor, represents students in a federal lawsuit against a new Kansas law permitting some illegal immigrants to receive lower, in-state tuition rates at state universities. He also has criticized Moore for signing on to legislation that would explicitly permit states to set such policies.

Kobach has repeatedly said Moore's record on national security issues is weak because of Moore's opposition to having Guard troops patrol American borders. Kobach contends such a step will keep terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants out of the United States and notes some Guard troops were so deployed until last year.

Moore argues the military already is stretched thin and noted that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently declared, "We don't militarize our borders with friends."

Adkins said if Kobach were courting moderate Republicans aggressively, he wouldn't be raising such issues.

"I don't sense that it's a major driver, other than to shore up his base," Adkins said.

Dwight Sutherland, a Mission Hills attorney and conservative activist, said Kobach is addressing voters' concerns about the security of American borders.

"There are a lot of security moms out there this fall," he said.

But Sutherland acknowledged that Kobach is relying heavily in his campaign on "the conservative foot-soldiers."

He also said the district's changing demographics as a reason why appealing to moderates like Adkins is less important than it has been.

"Those people have since made their peace with Moore and ain't coming back," Sutherland said.

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