ELLIS Like many residents of the panoramic plains, those gathering around the table at a convenience store on a recent morning for coffee and chat voice skepticism about politicians and government.
Candidates spend more time in populous eastern Kansas, and many voters in western Kansas feel their rural-based issues are getting ignored. Even so, campaigns for governor and attorney general aren't being ignored in western Kansas, which is heavily Republican and typically has a higher-than-average voter turnout.
"The problem is what they tell you now and what they do after they're in office. I haven't seen where they follow up on too many things," retired car dealer Ken Eberle said, watching the morning fog evaporate.
Leading up to the Nov. 7 general election, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has filled television screens and radio airwaves with commercials. Republican challenger Jim Barnett has been on the air, but to a much lesser degree.
Western Kansas also has watched an acrimonious contest between Republican Atty. Gen. Phill Kline and Democratic challenger Paul Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney.
But here, voters worry about agriculture, attracting businesses, the price of fertilizer and fuel, wind energy and water rights.
"The farm programs are what's important out here," Eberle said.
Western Kansas: It's a sparsely populated area where many feel that their rural-based issues are being ignored. Candidates spend more time in populous eastern Kansas. Political makeup: The region is Republican and typically has a higher-than-average voter turnout. Even so, many feel Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will carry the area because she's a popular incumbent; has ties to the area through her father-in-law, the late Congressman Keith Sebelius; and Republican challenger Jim Barnett isn't that well known. Negative campaigning: Many voters express frustration with the negative tone of the campaigns, especially between Republican Atty. Gen. Phill Kline and Democratic challenger Paul Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney.
Sebelius and Barnett say they're concerned about the issues important to western Kansas and have made frequent trips to the area.
"They do feel forgotten, and should feel forgotten because the current governor has ignored western Kansas," Barnett said, adding he supports expanded biofuels such as ethanol and diesel and more wind energy development.
But Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said the governor has worked to address the concerns of western Kansas.
"The governor has always recognized there's more to this state than the capital city, and her efforts and outreach over the past four years reflect that," Corcoran said.
Governor, AG races
Sebelius is favored by many in western Kansas because she has area ties through her father-in-law, the late Congressman Keith Sebelius. Also, she's a popular incumbent, and Barnett, a senator from Emporia, just isn't as well known.
In the attorney general's race, Morrison scored points by saying Kline wants to look at personal medical records. He doesn't mention that Kline sought records of 90 patients from two abortion clinics as part of an investigation of sex crimes against children and potentially illegal late-term abortions.
Kline, a conservative, can sell an anti-abortion message, but Morrison's attacks still have resonated with people like Ron Hallagin, a crop adjustor.
"I think Phill Kline should keep his hands in his pocket. That's what he'll lose on, the medical records thing," said Hallagin, who was sitting next to Eberle. "He's gone too far."
Across the street, Dave McDaniel is busy with his lumber yard and home furnishing store. He gives Sebelius credit for some good in "pulling in the reins on the budget" but doesn't know how much she knows about the agricultural economy.
As for Barnett, McDaniel, also Ellis' mayor, said, "I just don't know that much about him."
McDaniel thinks Kline probably will win, but he also thinks he's "gone too negative" in his campaigning.
He cited Kline's recent ad focusing on 15-year-old harassment allegations against Morrison. A former employee sued Morrison twice in federal court, but the lawsuits were dismissed, with Morrison paying no damages.
"I thought that was stupid," he said. "If that's all you've got to run on, you're in big trouble."
Paying close attention
Ed Urban, who manages the auto supply store, said the candidates have no idea what is going on in western Kansas.
"They don't represent the people. They represent their party," he said. "They're for Wichita and Kansas City and the bigger cities. That's where the majority of the votes are, and we suffer for it."
Like others, Urban is tired of mudslinging and misleading ads.
"I want to hear what they're going to do for the people," Urban said. "I don't care if they kicked the neighbor's dog last week."
In Plainville, Stan Morin runs a barber shop, where haircuts are $10 and political talk is free. He feels Sebelius will win but worries Kline will lose because of growing national discontent with Republicans in Washington.
"I think Kline is doing a fair job, a pretty darn good job, but I think people want a change from the top to the bottom," Morin said. "I would have thought Kline would have won in a landslide because he's Republican, but it's going to be close, and Morrison might win."
Customer Rex Curry offers his views: "I think Sebelius will win, but she won't get my vote."
Curry's grievance is a Sebelius-backed law phasing out property taxes on business machinery and equipment. It's meant to stimulate the economy, but Curry said, "Somebody had to pick it up."
Will Barnett do better?
"I don't know, but I'll give him a chance," Curry said.