It looks like we could have a race on our hands.
After an October SurveyUSA poll showed U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran with a 16-point lead in the Senate primary, U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt has narrowed that to a 3-point margin in a new poll conducted last weekend of 466 likely Republican primary voters.
“It represents an important watershed in this campaign because it represents a narrowing of what looked like a pretty big lead for the Moran campaign,” said Joe Aistrup, a Kansas State University political science professor. “It says there is a real campaign here.”
Compared with the October poll, Moran dropped 6 points and Tiahrt gained 7. In the new poll, 29 percent of those responding were undecided, and the spread between the two candidates was within the margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.
Moran, of Hays, represents western and north-central Kansas in the House, and Goddard resident Tiahrt’s district includes the Wichita area and south-central Kansas. They are seeking the GOP’s nomination to replace Sen. Sam Brownback, who is running for governor.
Aistrup said the results suggest that Tiahrt’s campaign efforts have likely boosted his name recognition.
“He’s probably now comparable to where Moran was,” Aistrup said.
In the poll, Tiahrt also closed a gap among likely GOP voters in northeast Kansas. Tiahrt led in that region 30 percent to 29 percent.
Tiahrt also received more support among conservatives who responded to the poll, 40 percent to 33 percent. Moran still had a sizable edge among moderates, 46 percent to 25 percent.
Another pundit said the poll’s most important number was the high number of people responding who said they were undecided.
“It is very early in the race, and so it’s very, very volatile,” said Chapman Rackaway, a Fort Hays State University political science associate professor. “We haven’t seen either of the candidates make their public push.”
Both candidates have campaigned across the state in the last year, including frequently in Republican-rich Johnson County. Moran did have a considerable edge in campaign funds at the most recent reporting deadline in October.
“We think a more accurate indicator of the state of the race is Jerry’s $3.5 million funds on hand, which gives him a $2 million lead over his opponent,” said Aaron Trost, Moran’s campaign manager. “Plus, Jerry has received key endorsements from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., which has played a key role in mobilizing our grass-roots network.”
A call to Tiahrt’s campaign staff seeking comment was not returned Monday. The primary election is next August.