Topeka — Conservative Republican challengers unseated two GOP moderates in the Kansas Senate and led six others, improving their chances of reshaping the Legislature and ending a check on the political right's agenda.
Final, unofficial results showed Sens. Tim Owens of Overland Park and Bob Marshall of Fort Scott losing to challengers who had the backing of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the anti-tax, small-government group Americans for Prosperity. Both primary winners, state Rep. Jim Denning of Overland Park and Jacob LaTurner of Pittsburg faced Democratic challengers in the November general election.
Other incumbents who initially were behind included Senate President Steve Morris of Hugoton. A dozen moderate GOP senators faced more conservative challengers, and the moderates received support from the state's largest teachers' union and some labor groups.
Besides Morris, the others trailing were Sens. Pete Brungardt of Salina, Roger Reitz of Manhattan, Jean Schodorf of Wichita, Ruth Teichman of Stafford, and Dwayne Umbarger of Thayer.
Morris, who was running against state Rep. Larry Powell of Garden City, has served in the Senate for 20 years.
"I want to see the Kansas Senate become more conservative," said Ken Freidline, a 53-year-old unemployed production supervisor in Park City, boasting that he is a "radical right-wing Republican" after voting in his hometown north of Wichita. "I think it is time to get the incumbents out and get someone new in."
Freidline backed Gary Mason, a Wichita-area businessman challenging Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, of Sedgwick, in the Republican primary. She was leading Mason, however.
There were contested races in a majority of the 40 Senate and 125 House districts. In southwest Kansas, Rep. Carl Dean Holmes of Liberal, who's held his seat since 1985, trailed in final, unofficial results by seven votes in his Republican primary with Reid Petty, a member of the Liberal school board.
Moderate GOP senators were targeted even before they joined Democrats in resisting conservative Gov. Sam Brownback's successful push to cut state income taxes this year. The bipartisan coalition in the Senate has prevented conservatives from going as far as they'd like toward lessening labor unions' political influence, remaking the appellate courts and moving new public employees into a 401(k)-style pension plan.
In Topeka, Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a moderate, spent more than $200,000 to try to fend off a challenge from Rep. Joe Patton, a conservative. Schmidt's endorsement by the state's largest teachers' union was important for Weber, but her 58-year-old husband, Orville, also lost his job at the state Department of Labor after Brownback became governor last year.
"We're really kind of anti-Brownback," she said after voting at a southwest Topeka church. "I figured Joe Patton was someone who would support Brownback."
Moderate Republicans contend there's broad concern that income tax reductions approved this year — and now touted as an economy booster by Brownback — will lead to future cuts in education and social services funding. Although abortion opponents are a major constituency for the state GOP, at least a few voters in the Republican primary worried the state would move further to restrict access to abortion.
"I feel if we don't keep these moderates in there Brownback is going to run the state into the ground with his ultra-ultra conservatives, and as a woman I don't want to go back to living in the stone age," said Bev Jaderborg, a 51-year-old systems analyst in pharmaceuticals from Overland Park.
Jaderborg and her husband were unaffiliated voters but changed their registrations to Republican so they could vote for Owens. The couple typified a potential trend.
Kansas Democratic Party officials said they believed hundreds of Democrats were switching parties temporarily in counties with contested Senate races to vote for GOP moderates.
But such party switching may have been offset by Republicans still angry with Democratic President Barack Obama over the federal health care overhaul he's championed.
The state has enacted a largely symbolic law saying no resident can be required to buy health insurance, a protest against the federal law's mandate that most Americans purchase it starting in 2014. A proposed health care "freedom" amendment to the state constitution failed to clear the Senate, though many moderates backed one version that was less aggressive than conservatives wanted.
After voting at a west Topeka nursing home, Derek Parrett, a 23-year-old casino surveillance officer, said Patton's strong opposition to the federal health care law resonated with him, and he sees Schmidt as too liberal.
"It hit home for me," Parrett said. "Just the whole idea of backing the liberal front is not my cup of tea."
Associated Press writers Roxana Hegeman in Park City and Heather Hollingsworth in Overland Park contributed to this report.