When gubernatorial candidate Tom Wiggans dropped out of the race this month, it left Kansas Democrats again playing catch-up to presumed GOP nominee U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback.
Wiggans, a former pharmaceutical executive who grew up in Kansas but recently moved back to the state, acknowledged he would have had a tough time defeating Brownback’s aggressive and well-funded campaign.
Larry Gates, Kansas Democratic Party chairman, said several people had stepped aside when Wiggans announced his bid. They are reconsidering, and more than one candidate could announce a bid in January, he said. Herb West III, of Paola, declared his candidacy months ago, but he didn’t gain the backing of party leaders. West ran unsuccessfully for Miami County sheriff in 2008.
Apparently state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, is one of the potential candidates. The two-term senator and former Lawrence mayor said this week that some of her friends had asked her to consider a bid.
“People have said, ‘We think you would be good.’ Or, ‘Would you consider this?” she said.
Francisco said she was undecided but added it would be a huge commitment and that she wasn’t sure how much support she would have in other areas of the state.
Gates, a Johnson County attorney who decided against his own bid in October to focus on his businesses, said the main challenge is that Brownback has his job as a U.S. senator and has known for months he was running for governor.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat who was elevated to the office when two-term Gov. Kathleen Sebelius left to head the Department of Health and Human Services, has repeatedly said he won’t run in 2010.
“My candidates who have considered this are all people who have to balance obligations of their professional or business status with trying to ramp up a run for governor, which is a better part of a year’s engagement,” Gates said.
Still, Gates said the party has time for one or more strong candidates to emerge. Sebelius didn’t officially kick off her first campaign until the end of February 2002.
But circumstances were much different. She had been raising funds for months, and she already had more money combined than the Republican challengers when she officially started running, according to news reports.
Jill Docking, a Wichita financial adviser and chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said last week that she was not in the running for the Democratic nomination.
She said voters are likely looking for an alternative option to Brownback, a conservative Republican, but it will be a challenge as the calendar turns to 2010.
“That person either has to have the ability to raise a great deal of money quickly or already have name identification. That’s a problem with the shortened time period,” Docking said.
Chad Manspeaker, who ran Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda’s 2008 campaign, said it’s difficult for Democrats because they seem to have gone through the list of candidates who already have name recognition in the state.
“I’m going to remain the eternal optimist,” said Manspeaker, the public affairs director for Labors Local 1290 in Wyandotte County. “Anything is possible in Kansas politics.”
Francisco said the nine Democrats in the Kansas Senate are naturally looked at as potential candidates because they wouldn’t have to give up their seats in a 2010 campaign.
But some of them already are considering other races. Sen. Chris Steineger, of Kansas City, Kan., instead is deciding whether to run for secretary of state. Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, is seeking the Democratic nomination to face Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., in the 2nd District U.S. House race.
Gates didn’t mention any names last week of potential candidates, but he said they could come from either the political or business arenas.
Even though Wiggans exiting the race means Democrats have to again search for a candidate, Gates said they still have time to find the right person.
“It would have set us back if it happened six months later,” he said.