Topeka Voter turnout Tuesday in Republican-leaning Kansas seemed heavier than expected, as Democrats scrambled to staunch the GOP-dominated Legislature's push to the right and allies of conservative Gov. Sam Brownback sought to shore up their gains.
With no U.S. Senate race this year and Republicans expected to comfortably win re-election to all four of the state's U.S. House seats, the most closely watched races as voters filed into polling stations Tuesday were for the Legislature. Republican Mitt Romney was expected to carry the state in the presidential race, as every GOP nominee has done since 1964.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach toured polling locations in Wyandotte and Johnson counties Tuesday and said poll workers were reporting a strong turnout. Kobach had predicted that 68 percent of eligible voters would weigh in, but he said Tuesday that his estimate may have been too low. He said a polling site in Lenexa had a long line before the polls opened at 7 a.m., but voters managed to get in and out in less than 30 minutes.
Kansas elections officials had been expecting about 1.2 million registered voters to cast ballots on Tuesday. More than 330,000 people voted early, either by mail or in person at election offices.
President Barack Obama had a relatively strong showing in Kansas in 2008, grabbing nearly 42 percent of the vote. But there were signs early Tuesday that any momentum the president had created for state Democrats was fading.
"I'm just ready for a change," said Jim Clark, a 42-year-old computer administrator from Topeka. He's a registered Republican who voted for Obama last time, seeking change, but voted for Romney this year. Clark lost a full-time job two years ago and has worked temporary assignments since then.
"It's tougher for me, personally," Clark said. "The economy has not improved."
Carl Huslig, 44, a Republican who is between jobs in the utility business, cast a straight GOP ticket, including Mitt Romney for president and Rep. Lynn Jenkins for a third term representing the 2nd District,
"The Obama thing isn't working. It's been a complete four years of failure," Huslig said.
Legislative races were intense because Democrats have worked with moderate Republicans leading the Senate to stall some of Brownback's agenda, even though the GOP had majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House. The GOP right defeated eight moderate senators in the August primary and was looking to strengthen its hold on the Senate by ousting Democrats, so that both chambers would have conservative majorities.
The GOP's biggest targets were four Democratic senators in northeast Kansas — Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, Tom Holland of Baldwin City, Laura Kelly of Topeka and Kelly Kultala of Kansas City.
"I've always felt Kansas is a conservative state, and that's one of the things I've appreciated. It seems the Legislature has become a little bit lax in some areas," said Bret Allen, 46, a Republican banker from Lenexa who voted for Republican Greg Smith in the state Senate race.
Democrats countered by trying to make legislative races a referendum on Brownback and massive income tax cuts enacted this year. Brownback and others who back the cuts contend they'll stimulate the economy.
Janel Bowers, the chief development officer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Topeka, said she's a lifelong Democrat and that she voted for Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, whom she called a strong supporter of education. She said she's concerned about the consequences of the income tax cuts.
"People do need to be self-sufficient, but the reality is that government exists for a reason. ... I think Brownback is reckless," said Bowers, 41.
On Tuesday, state officials and university economists issued a new financial forecast predicting the state will collect nearly $705 million less in the next fiscal year than it will this year as income tax cuts take effect and a sales tax increase expires.
The forecasters shaved $5.2 million from their earlier prediction of revenues in the fiscal year that ends next June 30, bringing it down to $6.17 billion. They also said they expect the state to collect $5.46 billion in the 2014 fiscal year, which begins next July.
John Mahon, the 52-year-old owner of a Topeka insurance agency and a Republican, said criticism of Brownback's tax plan is "almost a scare tactic — it hasn't had enough time" so it can work.