All that's missing thus far from the race for three seats on the Lawrence City Commission is Democratic strategist James Carville and his famous 1992 phrase: "It's the economy, stupid."
As results from Tuesday's primary rolled in, the broad issues of the economy and job creation were the factors that many of the front-runners were talking about in the halls of the County Courthouse.
"I think voters are looking for specific ideas on how to increase the number of jobs and businesses we have in the community," candidate Mike Dever said after he learned he'd garnered the most votes in the primary.
Second-place finisher Rob Chestnut had much the same take. He listed economic issues, along with increasing efficiency in the planning and development process, as key points on the minds of voters.
"The message I'm hearing is that there certainly is a desire to see a change in city government," Chestnut said. "Voters want more of a focus on some of those issues."
Third-place finisher and incumbent Commissioner Boog Highberger also acknowledged that the economy and job creation are issues that are motivating voters. But he also said he's not sure that the primary election results are indicative of what the majority of people in the community are thinking because of the low voter turnout.
"It is hard to gauge public sentiment at 14 percent turnout," Highberger said. "I suspect the turnout for the general election will be about twice that amount."
But that's what candidates were saying during the 2005 City Commission primary when only 16 percent of voters turned out. But in that case, the top three finishers in the primary ended up finishing in the exact same order in the general election. The same thing happened with the 2003 primary and general election.
So that raises the question of what could happen in the next four weeks that could change the dynamics of the race? Several campaign observers are saying it may take the emergence of a singular, hot-button issue to get a new set of voters to the polls. Here's a look at some issues that have the makings of a hot-button issue that candidates may try to capitalize on.
It is the $30 million question in the campaign. In some ways it has the potential to be a simple yes-no question because the project has a specific plan attached to it. The city's library board has recommended that the city build the project on the site of the U.S. Post Office at Seventh and Vermont streets.
But thus far, candidates haven't done much to differentiate themselves on the library question because they haven't gotten specific on how they would pay for the project.
"The positive thing is that they all have said that they support the concept of a new library or see the need, although some are probably stronger than others," said Deborah Thompson, a member of the city's library board. "The key piece of it now is how do they pay for it. I would like to hear some discussion about that during the campaign."
Results in depth
Domestic partnership registry
The idea is to allow same-sex couples to register at City Hall and receive some legal recognition for their relationship. Maggie Childs - chairwoman of the Kansas Equality Coalition, which proposed the local registry - said she thought the issue had the potential to turn into a hot-button issue for voters.
The coalition's statewide political action committee endorsed three candidates for the City Commission race based on their support for the registry - Highberger, Commissioner David Schauner and Carey Maynard-Moody.
"We want to work for them in the campaign," Childs said.
Gay and lesbian issues have become a hot-button issue at least once before. In the mid-1990s, the Simply Equal ordinance made Lawrence the only city in the state to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment matters based on sexual orientation.
It is credited with pushing candidate Allen Levine from a sixth-place finish in the primary to a top-three finish in the general election.
Childs, though, stopped short of saying the domestic registry issue would have that type of impact in this race. For one, none of the candidates has said he or she opposes the registry. Dever, Chestnut and James Bush have said they need more information about it before they could support it. Also, there's an outside chance the issue could be decided before the April 3 general election.
Three of the five city commissioners - Highberger, Schauner and Mike Rundle - have said they're ready to approve the ordinance, if a requested legal opinion from the Kansas Attorney General's Office finds that it does not violate the state's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Ashley Anstaett, a spokeswoman with the attorney general's office, said the first level of review for that opinion is expected to be done by next week but said she was uncertain whether more research would be required. She said it was possible, but not assured, that the opinion could be done before April 3.
A new Lawrence political advocacy group, Grassroots Action, formed with the idea of studying the issue of a local minimum wage that would require most businesses in the city to pay several dollars more than the federal minimum wage.
But David Smith, an organizer of Grassroots Action, said his group won't be prepared to submit a specific proposal before the general election. Smith said the group was waiting to see whether the new Democrat-controlled Congress approves a significant increase in the federal minimum wage.
City commission race 2007
City commission race
- Students likely to skip voting (04-03-07)
- School board, City Commission elections today (04-03-07)
- Ideas for attracting jobs to Lawrence are offered (03-28-07)
- Iowa Street turn-lane project voted down (03-28-07)
- Job growth picture hazy (03-28-07)
- Chamber Vision & Election 2007
- Retail stance divides field (03-27-07)
- Dever, Chestnut still hold lead in campaign finance (03-27-07)
- Candidates split on domestic registry (03-27-07)
- Outlooks on retail issues differ (03-27-07)
- Candidate survey explores potential projects(03-23-07)
- More on the 2007 City Commission race Â»
Smith, though, said his group may still try to get candidates on the record of whether they support the concept of a local minimum wage.
"I wouldn't say that the issue won't play a part at all in the local election, but since the national situation is not yet clear, it may not rise to the level of a hot-button issue," Smith said.
The nearly 3-year-old citywide ban on smoking in most Lawrence workplaces still draws strong opinions. The constitutionality of the ban is being challenged in the Kansas Supreme Court.
But none of the six remaining candidates has yet expressed a desire to change the smoking ban.
Whether to build a Wal-Mart store at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive was a hot-button issue in the 2003 campaign that resulted in a trio of Progressive Lawrence Campaign candidates sweeping the election.
The issue remains contentious, but for the time being, it is out of the hands of the City Commission. A lawsuit challenging the city's denial of the project is scheduled to begin April 16, two weeks after the new City Commission is seated.
An open question in the campaign is whether any of the candidates will take a stand on reopening settlement talks with the proposed developers of the Wal-Mart in an effort to head off the lawsuit.