Former Gov. Bill Graves returning to Kansas to support moderate Republicans

? Former Gov. Bill Graves will return to Kansas to support moderate Republicans facing tough primary fights that could determine the fate of the state Senate.

Graves, who now lives in Virginia, will make stops next week in Johnson County, Wichita and Salina to stump for Senate incumbents who are battling more conservative Republicans in the Aug. 7 primary, The Kansas City Star reported Thursday.

The visits come as current Gov. Sam Brownback has started endorsing more conservative Republicans as the two sides wage a battle for control of the Senate.

Brownback’s agenda has largely won over the House, but skeptics in the Senate have blocked him on such issues as labor law, picking judges and education finance reform.

Derrick Sontag, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a Washington-based group that advocates for tax cuts and smaller government, said Graves’ planned visits represent “the old guard.”

“They may say it, but they don’t really believe in a limited government,” Sontag said “Their actions don’t back up their rhetoric at times.”

Graves served as governor from 1995 to 2003, and political observers believe he brings political and fundraising credibility to moderates who are up against Brownback’s conservative backers, which include Sontag’s group and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Despite earlier signs he would stay out of the primary elections, Brownback has quietly asserted himself by endorsing conservatives. He appeared at a fundraiser for several freshmen House candidates in Johnson County in June.

His return shows that moderate Republicans know the battle for the Senate has turned fierce.

“The moderates who once roamed the plains very freely are now down to a very limited amount of pasture,” said Joe Aistrup, a political science professor at Kansas State University. “If they don’t step it up and raise the money necessary to compete against the likes of Brownback, the chamber and Americans for Prosperity, their days are numbered.”