Voters on Tuesday will elect leaders from the White House to the Statehouse and beyond.
Topped by the presidential tussle between Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the ballot will also feature the race between U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, and Democrat Tobias Schlingensiepen, of Topeka, for the 2nd Congressional District, which has been newly configured to include all of Lawrence and Douglas County.
In addition, voters in the area will decide a number of local contests, the State Board of Education, District 4 matchup and even a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the authority to tax boats at a lower rate.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
In Kansas, the presidential race has gotten little attention, since it is a pretty safe bet Romney will win the state by a hefty margin.
So, much of the political activity over the past few months has centered on the state legislative races.
In those races, conservative Republicans are hoping to duplicate against Democrats what they did to moderate Republicans in the primary election.
Led by Gov. Sam Brownback and fueled with big donations from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the billionaire Koch brothers and others, the conservatives defeated a slew of moderate Republican incumbents this summer.
Heading into Tuesday, Democrats were already outnumbered in the House 92-33 after a record loss of seats in 2010, and Senate Republicans held a 32-8 advantage. The same forces are at work in the general election against Democrats.
Joe Aistrup, a political science professor at Kansas State University, predicted Democrats will probably lose more seats in the Senate, and if they make gains in the House, they will be small.
That means that over the next two years, Brownback, who has already signed into law massive tax cuts and record school funding cuts, will be able to reshape state government further.
“We are going to see fundamental changes in the nature of state government,” Aistrup said. “It will take us back to the 1960s, when state government was more limited in terms of focus. That is what Brownback ran on and that is the vision he plans to implement.”
With Obama at the top of the ticket, Democrats face long odds.
“It’s just a big, huge gale-force wind that these Democrats are bumping up against,” Aistrup said.
Conservatives in Kansas have “nationalized” the election, attempting to link moderate Republicans and Democrats in state legislative races to Obamacare and the national debt.
For the past two election cycles in Kansas, conservatives have made huge gains by getting voters “thinking they are voting against national forces,” said Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University.
And, he said, the impact of groups such as the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, which doesn’t have to divulge its campaign finances, has been great for conservative candidates.
He said the harbinger of this wave came in 2008 when Jenkins defeated incumbent Democrat Nancy Boyda. Boyda was seen as a moderate Democrat who spent an enormous amount of time in the district holding town-hall meetings. “She gets beat by being linked to national Democrats,” Beatty said.
Democrats in state legislative races aren’t throwing in the towel. They are trying to keep the voters focused on state issues, criticizing Republican opponents as being in support of the Brownback tax cuts, which they say will lead to cuts in school funding and social services while benefiting mostly wealthy Kansans.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said he expected an unprecedented amount of money spent for Republican candidates “who will support Sam Brownback’s agenda to use cuts to public education and social services to finance his irresponsible tax cuts.”
Brownback has vowed to protect school funding and core state services, but Democrats say the enormity of the tax cut will force cuts to services and costs onto local governments. They point to the facts that the Brownback administration has directed state agencies to submit budget proposals that include a 10 percent cut and Brownback has not ruled out extending a temporary sales tax increase.
The state is decreasing its individual income tax rates for 2013, with the top rate dropping to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent. Also, the state will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from income taxes.
In addition, some tax credits and programs aimed at helping low-income Kansans were eliminated by the massive tax cutting plan.
Brownback has said the tax cuts will boost the economy and create jobs and that his administration will propose the necessary adjustments to state spending.
In local legislative races, the tax cuts have been at the forefront.
State Sens. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, Hensley and state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, voted against the tax cuts. Democrats had proposed property tax cuts instead.
Francisco’s opponent, Republican Ron Ellis said he is concerned that the Brownback tax cuts were too deep. Holland’s opponent, state Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, voted for the tax cuts, and Hensley’s opponent, Republican Casey Moore, said he would like to cut taxes further. Republican Patrick Bengtson, who is challenging Ballard, said he also opposed the tax cuts.
In the race to represent House District 10, Democrat John Wilson of Lawrence said he opposed the tax cuts, while Republican Erica Anderson of Baldwin City said she supported them.