"Election a moderate success." The headline in Wednesday's Journal-World did a pretty good job of summing up Tuesday's primary election results.
Moderate Kansas candidates didn't sweep the primary races, but they did well enough to show that a strong portion of Kansas Republicans still embrace the traditional moderate party philosophy of Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum.
Two Republican incumbents convincingly beat back challenges from within their own party for statewide offices. Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh topped State Sen. Kay O'Connor by a margin of 73 percent to 27 percent.
In a tighter race, but hardly a nail-biter, Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger of Lawrence claimed victory over State Rep. Eric Carter of Overland Park with 60 percent of the vote. The margin was impressive in a race that many observers had said was too close to call.
After the vote, Carter's comments seemed disconnected from the reality of the contest. He said he didn't think the race "reflected the division within the party" and added, "I was definitely focused on issues. And her (Praeger's) campaign was directed a little more at me personally. It may be that that won out." The latter statement is amazing given that Carter focused much of his campaign on whether Praeger was a "real" Republican and leveled various accusations unrelated to her work as insurance commissioner.
The biggest news of the primary for Kansans, however, was the demise of the conservative majority on the Kansas State Board of Education. Following Tuesday's primary, it appears the conservatives will have no more than four seats on the 10-member board and possibly fewer after the general election.
One of the board's moderates, Democrat Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kan., won Tuesday's primary and faces no Republican opposition in November. Board Member Connie Morris, whose bizarre statements about minorities, evolution and other topics made her a lightning rod for criticism of the board, was knocked out of the race by moderate Sally Cauble in the Republican primary. Conservative Board Member Iris Van Meter didn't run for re-election and her son-in-law failed in his bid to succeed her, losing to moderate Jana Shaver in southeast Kansas. In November's election, Cauble and Shaver both will face Democratic opponents who have voiced their opposition to science standards that criticize the theory of evolution.
The same is true of the two conservative board members who won their primaries on Tuesday. John Bacon of Overland Park and Ken Willard of Hutchinson both won their Republican primaries, but by unimpressive margins - 49 percent and 54 percent, respectively - considering that they are incumbents. Both face notable Democratic challenges in November, Bacon from Don Weiss, an Olathe resident who is dean of a graduate program at DeVry Institute, and Willard from Jack Wempe, a former school superintendent, state legislator and Kansas Board of Regents chairman from Hutchinson.
The victories by moderate candidates in Tuesday's primary are significant to the Kansas Republican Party, the state school board and the state as a whole. Notwithstanding Carter's claims, incumbent state officeholders would not be facing challenges from within their own party if a split did not exist. The showing of Praeger and Thornburgh - especially in a low-turnout primary that normally would favor conservative candidates with highly motivated supporters - should make conservative Republican leaders question their claim on the heart of the party.
Such a moment of reflection is unlikely for GOP leaders as well as for the remaining conservative members of the state school board. Nonetheless, Tuesday's results set the stage for significant changes in state education policy which likely will include a reversal of the approved science standards and perhaps a change of leadership for the Kansas Department of Education.
And that, as Kansas voters indicated on Tuesday, is good news for the state.