Topeka Looking at the prospect of a Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas Democrats are singing the blues.
“There is an utter sense of futility if you talk to Democrats across the state,” said Joe Aistrup, political science professor at Kansas State University.
Brownback, a U.S. senator, is a conservative Republican who has announced he will run for governor in 2010.
He has chased off a primary challenger — Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, who was seen as a more moderate Republican candidate than Brownback.
And while the official party line from Democrats is that they will have an “awesome” candidate suited up for the general election, none has been announced.
State Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, is considering a run but lacks the name recognition of Brownback, who has been a statewide political figure for years.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairman Larry Gates is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate, but so far hasn’t publicly committed. His decision is expected soon. Some have mentioned U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., whose district includes east Lawrence, but he has indicated he will stand for re-election to his House seat.
At this point, probably the only Democrat who has a chance against Brownback is Gov. Mark Parkinson, said Aistrup. But Parkinson has said several times that he will not run.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, said he is asked by people every day who the Democratic candidate for governor will be and whether Parkinson will reconsider his decision.
“Without an announced candidate right now, some people are looking at the possibility of a Brownback administration, and thinking of what the implications of that could be,” he said. And, he said, he has heard from moderate Republicans who also are “not excited” about the possibility of a Brownback administration.
But Davis said he believes a Democratic candidate will be competitive once most Kansans turn their attention to the race.
Democrats find themselves in this situation through some interesting plot twists.
When Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democratic force, won re-election in 2006, she had recruited Paul Morrison to switch parties to run for attorney general. Morrison won as a Democrat and was seen as a rising star in the party. That star crashed in a sex scandal.
Earlier this year, Sebelius left Kansas to join President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Her lieutenant governor, Parkinson, a former Kansas Republican Party chair whom Sebelius recruited to the Democratic Party, rose to the governor’s position, but then declared his noncandidacy, saying he wanted to focus on the state’s budget problems in the remainder of his term. He has been asked repeatedly whether he would reconsider, and the answer has been no.
The only thing that may work in the Democrats’ favor is that there has never been a conservative Republican who has won the governor’s race in Kansas.
“That’s the hurdle that Brownback has to overcome,” Aistrup said. “That is what is depressing the Democrats. There is a conservative from the Republican Assembly side of the party, and it looks like in all likelihood he is going to win,” he said.