Topeka — Democrats in Kansas have pinned their hopes for winning the governor’s race this year on exploiting discomfort among moderate Republicans about the conservative politics of U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, the presumed GOP nominee.
Democrats argue many Republicans are looking for an alternative to Brownback, nervous about his strong opposition to abortion, put off by his views on other social issues and worried that he’s willing to make deep cuts in aid to public schools and government programs. One prominent Democrat even suggests Brownback could be the GOP’s most conservative nominee ever for governor.
Democratic leaders acknowledge they still must find a credible challenger for Brownback but contend that once the candidate emerges, Brownback will lose support quickly within the GOP.
“He is a real conservative and much more so than the mainstream Kansas voter,” said Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. “People need to realize what his politics will be if he’s elected.”
But Republicans appear confident of a Brownback victory. They argue that he’s already unified his party enough to prevent major GOP defections and note he’s won three past Senate races. They also believe any Democratic nominee will be hurt by disillusionment nationally among voters with the economy, President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats who control Congress.
“The problem is, they have nobody to put on a yard sign,” said Christian Morgan, a former Kansas Republican Party executive director who’s a consultant for GOP candidates for secretary of state and for three congressional seats. “Whoever the Democrats put up, I can guarantee you it’s not going to be somebody who’s won three times statewide already. The reality is Sam Brownback’s our next governor.”
Meanwhile, Brownback has emphasized economic issues in his campaign, promising in a recent interview that he’ll soon roll out proposals he’s developed with the help of business leaders and others.
“They’re going to see a very aggressive plan to grow the state,” Brownback said, referring to voters. “We’ve got to be in a position to be growth-oriented coming out of this recession, or we’ll be left behind.”
Brownback has been the favorite to win the governor’s race for more than a year. He faces only token opposition in the Republican primary in August. In September, his only major rival for the nomination, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, dropped out of the race and became the Brownback campaign’s co-chairman.
Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson has said repeatedly that he won’t run, and Tom Wiggans, a former pharmaceutical company executive backed by party leaders, abandoned his campaign last month. The only declared Democrat left is Herbert West III, of Paola, who ran unsuccessfully for Miami County sheriff in 2008.
“We just need to see if we can find that viable Democrat and get him the race,” said Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. “I’m still very hopeful that we’re going to have a very credible candidate.”