Soccer moms may provide election kick

Johnson County ballot question has potential to influence AG race

Could soccer moms in Johnson County decide this year’s hotly contested race for Kansas attorney general?

Some political observers and election specialists say there is a good chance the moms could swing it.

The race has longtime Johnson County Dist. Atty. Paul Morrison, a Democrat, challenging incumbent Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, a Republican.

Their contest is widely regarded as the liveliest in an otherwise dull, off-presidential election cycle and the one most likely to pull voters to the polls.

But in Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, there also are some ballot questions that might energize voters.

Chief among them is a $75 million proposal for a 24-field soccer complex at 167th Street and U.S. Highway 69 in Overland Park. The complex also would include a community center.

“You are certainly going to see an impact” on voter turnout because of the soccer project, said Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.

Thornburgh won’t release his official prediction on statewide turnout until the Thursday or Friday before the Nov. 7 election.

But it isn’t too soon for him and other observers to acknowledge the soccer question’s potential allure for voters who might otherwise stay at home.

‘You never know’

“Soccer mom” as a political term was coined in the 1990s to describe a perceived class of swing voters that helped both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush gain two terms as president. They are generally thought of as upper-middle-class women with school-age children who typically are college-educated suburbanites with no strong allegiance to political party.

“It stands to reason that logically with so many people involved in soccer, there’s going to be a higher turnout because of that,” said Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby. “And there are organized groups opposed to that as well. But you never know.”

Neither Thornburgh or Newby were willing to say which candidate or candidates the additional turnout might benefit.

But other political observers with Johnson County roots were willing to weigh in.

Kerry Patrick, a conservative Republican and former state representative from Leawood, called all but the attorney general’s race “yawners.”

“In a close race, that Question No. 1 in soccer could be the key issue that could turn the race in favor of Morrison,” Patrick said.

Patrick said he thinks soccer moms more likely will back Morrison. Furthermore, he said, anti-tax Republicans don’t view the soccer question as onerous and are in any case “lukewarm” to Kline.

Former Republican state Sen. David Adkins, who represented northeastern Johnson County from 2001 to 2005, said he thinks parents of soccer kids tend to be more moderate and could increase turnout.

Adkins carried Johnson County against Kline in the 2002 GOP primary but lost statewide. He said strong turnout in Johnson County could be Kline’s downfall.

“I think anything that heightens turnout in Morrison’s direction could decide the race,” he said.

Weak connection?

Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis said he doubted the ballot questions would be that critical to winning the attorney general’s race or any other.

“I think we’re really nibbling at the edges right there,” Loomis said. “The connective tissue isn’t very strong.”

Loomis said the effect of ballot questions on general-election turnout is not as strong as once thought. They are more of a force in primaries, when voter turnout in Kansas traditionally is lower and relatively few votes can turn the election.

The Kline-Morrison race was generally thought to have been a tight one until a fresh poll showed Morrison with a significant lead.

The poll released by SurveyUSA this week put Morrison at 56 percent and Kline at 43 percent, a contrast to the poll in September that had Kline at 51 percent to Morrison’s 48 percent.

Johnson County has 340,314 registered voters. Newby predicted half or fewer would vote in the general election.