On the street
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In-depth coverage of the candidates and the issues, all leading up to the Aug. 5 primary and the Nov. 4 general election.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda and State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins aren't going out of their way to tell voters which political party they belong to. Boyda is the Democrat, and Jenkins, the Republican, in the 2nd Congressional District race.
But during this election, that's not unusual. In fact, candidates in many races are running away from their party labels. In TV and radio ads and campaign literature, there is little, if any, mention of party affiliation.
Joe Aistrup, head of the political science department at Kansas State University, said in Republican-dominated Kansas, it's common for Democrats to downplay their party affiliation in general elections.
But Aistrup said that this year, "The Republican brand name is also tainted."
He added, "Voters perceive them (Republicans) to have been in charge for the past eight years, and as a consequence, those things that are going poorly right now are often attributed to the party in power."
An independent run
Candidates from both parties are working hard to depict themselves as having independent judgment.
In the race between U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Democratic challenger Jim Slattery, Roberts has noted that he opposed President Bush on health care, while Slattery has mentioned his support of a proposal by Republican presidential candidate John McCain to try to lower prescription drug costs.
In the race between Boyda and Jenkins for the district that includes west Lawrence, Boyda says both Republicans and Democrats are to blame for high gasoline prices, while Jenkins has criticized Republicans, saying they blew their chance when they were in charge of Congress.
Boyda has gone so far as to effectively shut the door on national Democratic Party funding in the campaign. Jenkins, however, will receive significant financial help from the national GOP.
Party officials weigh in
Officials from both parties in Kansas have different ideas about what is going on.
Mike Gaughan, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said it is not unusual for Kansas Democrats not to focus on party labels.
"Kansas Democratic candidates are building on a history of elected officials like (Gov.) Kathleen Sebelius, (U.S. Rep.) Dennis Moore and Nancy Boyda who reach across party lines to find common ground and promote ideas that help Kansas families," Gaughan said.
He said Republicans from President Bush to Kansas House Speaker Melvin Neufeld of Ingalls are "changing every important debate into divisive, partisan bickering."
Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kris Kobach, however, said he doesn't believe that GOP candidates generally are downplaying their party identity.
"It's hard to make generalizations across districts," Kobach said. "The prominence of the party label is something the candidate decides. In one district it may be extremely beneficial, and in one it might not."
He disagreed that President Bush is considered a negative for Kansas Republicans. "Whenever George Bush comes to Kansas, he can raise a lot of money and draw a huge crowd. The Republican brand is still very strong," Kobach said.
But KSU's Aistrup maintains there is general discontent among voters for both the Republican Party and Democratic Party. But, he added, that hasn't translated into gains by third-party candidates.
"The institution of American politics is generally winner-take-all," he said. "That leads to two-party competition, and once they get entrenched, through state laws and regulations, they continue to perpetuate their own power base."