It figures to be another tough year for Kansas Democrats.
The seasons' hottest political show closes Aug. 3, when Republican voters decide whether U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran or Todd Tiahrt is their nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat.
Sure, Democrats will field a challenger, but none of their five candidates are likely to give either Moran or Tiahrt much trouble, even after their bitter race. Democrats can feel better about the governor's race, but there a lopsided victory by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, the expected GOP nominee, remains the most likely result.
Republican primaries also appear to be the decisive contests in Moran's 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas and in the previously competitive 2nd District of eastern Kansas.
A few years ago, thanks to then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, her fellow Democrats buzzed that GOP-red Kansas was turning purple. But those prospects already were fading when Sebelius left in April 2009 to join President Barack Obama's Cabinet.
"I think the conventional wisdom is that the pendulum is perhaps shifting more toward the Republicans right now," said Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. "I don't think it's any secret that Democrats have had some bad luck in the last couple of years."
Democrats' bad luck included the lack of interest by Sebelius, a relatively popular but term-limited governor, in running for the U.S. Senate and the refusal of her successor, Gov. Mark Parkinson, to run for his office. It also includes a sex scandal that felled an attorney general who seemed to have a long career ahead of him.
Dissatisfaction with Obama roused Republicans, particularly conservatives, and generated the tea party movement.
"You're seeing that the GOP base is energized," said Randy Duncan, a Salina businessman and Saline County commissioner who serves as the GOP's 1st District chairman. "The numbers are on our side. We're going to win, and we're going to win big."
Now, 2010 seems to echo the mid- and late-1990s, which were generally grim for the Democrats.
In 1998, then-GOP Gov. Bill Graves' most serious challenge to re-election was in the primary, and Democrats' only big victory — aside from Sebelius' re-election as insurance commissioner — was Dennis Moore winning the 3rd Congressional District seat.
This year, Moore isn't seeking re-election, and his wife, Stephene, is trying to keep his seat. Democrats see her prospects as good. Republicans like their chances and have nine candidates.
Democrats also are talking up the chances of state Rep. Raj Goyle picking up Tiahrt's 4th District seat. Goyle, from Wichita, has raised more than $1.2 million.
But the 1st District is biennially a lost cause for Democrats, thanks to huge GOP registration advantages in rural counties. And in the 2nd, freshman Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins faces her most serious challenge in the primary.
And Democrats aren't saying much about the Senate race in the fall. The state last elected a Democrat to a Senate seat in 1932.
Democratic activists refuse — publicly, at least — to concede that Brownback, who faces only minor opposition in his primary race, is a good bet to thump state Sen. Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, in the fall contest for governor.
And Democrats argue the tea party movement will hurt mainly Republican incumbents and push the GOP far enough to the right to help Democrats.
Mary Reed Spencer, a hospital lab worker who is the Democrats' Wabaunsee County chairwoman, said anti-Obama sentiment will lessen as people learn more about the health reform legislation he championed, though she acknowledged being more confident about it helping Obama win re-election in 2012.
Despite recent Democratic gains in voter registration, Republicans still hold a better than 3-to-2 edge. Spencer believes some Republicans are "closet Democrats" who register GOP to vote in local primaries in rural counties.
Otherwise, she said, "Why would you think Kansas would ever elect a Democratic governor?"
That kind of talk is still far from the headiness Democrats felt in 2006, when Sebelius won her second term and brought along Parkinson as her running mate. Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison also unseated Attorney General Phill Kline, a conservative Republican.
Sebelius had helped woo both Morrison and Parkinson away from the GOP. Parkinson had even served as state GOP chairman.
Even better that year, Democrat Nancy Boyda rode a wave of dissatisfaction with then-President George W. Bush to unseat veteran Rep. Jim Ryun in the 2nd District.
But a sex scandal forced Morrison from office in January 2008, and Boyda narrowly lost to Jenkins in November, a race some Democrats thought Boyda should have won.
Many Democrats had assumed Sebelius picked Parkinson as lieutenant governor so he could run for governor this year. He announced in January 2009 that he would return to private business.
Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political scientist who worked for a year on Sebelius' staff, compared her to the general manager of a professional sports team who faces building a franchise.
She lured free agents away from the GOP. She also brought in money: From 2006 through her departure, her Bluestem political action committee raised and spent more than $880,000.
But those efforts ultimately didn't turn Kansas purple.
"Sebelius was a pretty big rock being chucked into the Republican sea, and she made some pretty big ripples, but in the end, she didn't change the sea at all," Loomis said. "It's still pretty red."