Topeka Republicans and Democrats were making a final push Monday to woo voters in hot races for the Kansas Legislature, having made Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback the chief bogeymen.
The Kansas Democratic Party disclosed in a finance report that part of its preparations for the final hours of the campaign was nearly $96,000 in mailings in just two days to help its legislative candidates. Democrats have argued that they need such aggressive spending to counter the tea party movement and the conservative GOP-leaning Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
Republicans were hoping that Obama's place at the head of the Democratic ticket would help GOP candidates down the ballot. Obama received nearly 42 percent of the vote in Kansas in 2008, the best showing of any Democratic nominee in 20 years, but his percentage was expected to drop this year following the federal health care overhaul two years ago.
Democrats tried to make this year's legislative races a referendum on Brownback and massive income tax enacted earlier this year. Brownback and his fellow conservatives believe they'll stimulate the economy, but Democrats see them as reckless and predict they'll lead to persistent budget problems.
Voters had until noon Monday to cast ballots in advance at local election offices, with polls set to open across the state at 7 a.m. local time Tuesday. Secretary of State Kris Kobach is predicting that 1.2 million people will vote, or 68 percent of those registered. He expects fewer than 25 percent to cast advance ballots.
The most closely watched races are for the Legislature. The GOP entered the election with majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House. Republican moderates had controlled the Senate and worked with Democrats to stall some of Brownback's agenda, but conservatives ousted eight moderate GOP senators in the August primary.
Conservatives hope to consolidate their gains by ousting Democratic incumbents in Tuesday's election, particularly in the Senate. The Kansas Chamber has committed to spending more than $400,000 to help GOP candidates.
One chamber mailing against Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, described her and Obama as "two liberal politicians pursuing the same failed agenda" and noted her opposition to a measure adding a largely symbolic protest against the law to the state constitution. Kelly faces Republican Dick Barta, a former Shawnee County sheriff.
"Democrats are bad and Obama is evil, and that's what it's all about," said Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon.
Democrats have countered with tough mailings of their own against Republican candidates over the income tax cuts. Legislative researchers project that the reductions will be worth $4.5 billion over the next six years but also project that the cuts will lead to collective budget shortfalls of $2.5 billion during the same period.
One mailing from Kelly's campaign attacked Barta with a parody of the "Dick and Jane" readers for young children called "Fun with Dick and Sam." Part of it accuses "Dick and Sam" of working to "bankrupt the state" with reckless tax cuts.
"Break the bank, Dick," it says, picturing a hammer poised over a piggy bank.
But Clay Barker, the Kansas GOP's executive director, questioned whether the tax cuts are a burning issue for voters. He also noted that Republicans enjoy a sizeable edge in voter registration.
"Nobody can count the value of volunteers," he said. "That's where we have an advantage."