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Archive for Monday, December 29, 2008

Political events this year set stage for hot 2010 elections

December 29, 2008

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— Events in Kansas politics in 2008 often played out as pages in the first chapter of a more interesting story — the changes coming with elections in 2010.

In two years, the state should see not only a spirited race for governor but an even more exciting contest for the U.S. Senate. Three down-ballot races — attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer — also should generate interest.

The reasons are what happened in 2008, a relatively lackluster year for Kansas politics, outside of Republican challenger Lynn Jenkins’ victory over Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda in the 2nd Congressional District of eastern Kansas.

“What happened in 2008 is setting up this wild 2010 election,” said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist.

Many Kansans may not want to think about elections in 2010 so soon after this year’s contests. However, some prominent politicians are.

Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh began his gubernatorial campaign last year. Republican Rep. Jerry Moran, who represents the 1st District of western Kansas, is already raising money for a Senate race, and GOP Rep. Todd Tiahrt, of the 4th District in south-central Kansas, has said he’s “very serious” about a potential run.

But the buzz about 2010 is most intense around Republican Sen. Sam Brownback and Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius can’t run for governor in two years because she’s term-limited by the Kansas Constitution. Brownback term-limited himself, promising he’d leave the Senate after serving his second six-year term.

Brownback confirmed this month that he’d stick by his promise, and he’s widely expected to run for governor in 2010, though he hasn’t said so publicly. His potential candidacy hasn’t spooked Thornburgh out of the governor’s race, though many Republicans would like to avoid a divisive primary.

Some Democrats see Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson as their party’s natural gubernatorial nominee in 2010.

The assessment isn’t universal, however, because Parkinson is a former state GOP chairman who switched parties to run with Sebelius in 2006. Also, only two sitting lieutenant governors have won governor’s races: Republicans Ben Paulen, in 1924, and Fred Hall, in 1954.

Congressional races

Brownback’s planned departure from the Senate also creates an unusually good opportunity for Democrats, but it depends on Sebelius running.

Sebelius hasn’t said publicly that she’s interested. But some Democrats believed her running became more likely when she took herself out this month of consideration for President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet.

She cited the state’s looming budget problems as the reason and fellow Democrats accept that explanation. But Larry Gates, the Kansas Democratic Party’s chairman, said that had Sebelius opted for Washington, a Senate run “would have been off the table.”

A Sebelius candidacy probably would attract national attention. Party leaders showed their respect for her by picking her to give the Democratic response to President Bush’s last State of the Union address, and she’s shown she can raise enough money — $10 million for her two gubernatorial races — to make the race competitive.

A competitive race is a potentially historic one for Kansas, where Democrats haven’t won a Senate contest since 1932.

Also, Moran’s and Tiahrt’s candidacies would open up congressional seats that have been safe ones for the GOP in recent elections.

It’s unlikely that a Democrat could overcome the GOP’s heavy registration advantage in the 1st District. But a competitive Republican primary already is shaping up between state Sen. Tim Huelskamp, of Fowler, and Rob Wasinger, a former Brownback staffer from Hays.

The two parties would be more competitive in 4th District. Democrat Dan Glickman held the seat for 18 years before Tiahrt ousted him in 1994.

And the 2nd District could be worth watching with Jenkins finishing her freshman term, often the most vulnerable time for a House member seeking to remain in Congress. Boyda was finishing her first term when Jenkins beat her.

State offices

Jenkins’ victory this year also has other ramifications, because Jenkins is a two-term state treasurer. Her coming departure led Sebelius to appoint House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, a Greensburg Democrat, to replace her.

Some Democrats have touted McKinney as a potential gubernatorial candidate and, at the very least, the treasurer’s race will be open. But McKinney also could seek a full, four-year term as treasurer.

If Thornburgh stays in the governor’s race, the secretary of state’s contest will be open. And state GOP Chairman Kris Kobach has a strong enough interest in running that he’s not seeking another term next year as the Republican Party’s leader.

Finally, there’s the attorney general’s race.

Democrat Paul Morrison won the 2006 contest convincingly and, as he settled into the office, even some Republicans said privately he was unlikely to face a serious challenger if he sought re-election in 2010.

But, of course, Morrison was forced to leave office in January because of the scandal surrounding an extramarital affair.

Sebelius appointed Steve Six, a Douglas County judge who’s never run for elective office. He’s sure to draw at least one serious Republican challenger, and a spirited GOP primary is possible.

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