If Kansas Democrats feel discouraged about their party’s chances in the governor’s race, they could look at Massachusetts.
There, a state senator from Massachusetts’ minority party vaulted past the favored candidate to win a stunning election last month. Scott Brown’s capture of the U.S. Senate seat — held for nearly half a century by the late Edward Kennedy — has shaken national politics.
Now, in Kansas, a little-known state senator, Tom Holland, from the minority Democratic Party, faces a well-financed and well-known Republican, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, in the governor’s race.
“Strange things happen in politics,” said Joe Aistrup, a political science professor at Kansas State University. “You just saw a great example of that in Massachusetts. An unknown state senator caught the right wave at the right time.”
But Aistrup says that a Holland victory over Brownback is a longshot at best.
“What Democrats have to hope for is that Brownback will somehow be tripped up, something will happen to lead to a number of warts being exposed. The chances of that happening are slim,” he said.
Holland faces a steep climb.
“He has no name recognition beyond his state senate seat,” Aistrup said. “He’s not even well-known around Democratic activists. He is facing a very well-financed challenger, and his capacity to raise money will be very challenging. And this is a very difficult election year for any Democrat.”
When Holland announced his candidacy last week, Kansas Republican Party executive director Ashley McMillan issued a news release, saying she thought Holland was a “precursor to the real Democratic candidate, who will emerge in a few months.”
But Holland is the one that the Kansas Democratic Party has endorsed to go against Brownback.
What does he have to do to win?
Right out of the chute, Holland called Brownback a “career politician,” and linked him to the partisan atmosphere of Washington politics. In addition to locking down registered Democratic voters, Holland must woo Republicans who aren’t thrilled about Brownback, a favorite of the religious right.
Meanwhile, Holland’s supporters must promote his experience as owner and president of a small business — Holland Technologies — and paint himself as an independent who can work with Democrats and Republicans.
“Governors are CEOs of their states, and as a successful small business owner, Tom’s experience in balancing the books and getting the most out of every penny is exactly what Kansas needs,” said Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat who has said he is not going to run for election.
But Aistrup said the state Democratic Party, always outnumbered in Kansas, has fallen on hard times in the past few years.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who won re-election in 2006, has gone to work in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet; former Attorney General Paul Morrison resigned in sex scandal; and 2nd Congressional District Rep. Nancy Boyda was defeated in 2008. In addition, 3rd Congressional District Rep. Dennis Moore is retiring, opening the seat for a possible Republican gain.
“After 2006, it looked like the sky was the limit, but since then it has been nothing but bad news,” Aistrup said of the Democratic Party’s situation in Kansas.