Topeka Conservative Republicans have captured large enough majorities in the Kansas Legislature to likely give GOP Gov. Sam Brownback broad freedom to move the state sharply right and to deal with next year's self-inflicted state budget shortfall.
With votes still being counted in some races early Wednesday, Republicans appeared poised to hold their 32-8 majority in the Senate and 92-33 advantage in the House. That was good news for conservative Republicans, who were on track to hold a Senate supermajority of 27 seats.
Conservative Republicans appeared poised to hold 75 of the 84 House seats, which would leave them short of the two-thirds majority needed to change the state constitution but would be more than enough to pass a wide range of proposed laws on taxes, abortions and other issues.
Massive income tax cuts enacted this year have left the state facing a large projected budget deficit, and Brownback will need the newly constituted Legislature's approval for spending cuts or measures to bring in more revenue.
A new financial forecast issued Tuesday predicts that tax collections will fall significantly during the fiscal year that begins in July 2013, and legislative researchers immediately projected a $328 million shortfall for mid-2014, reflecting a gap between anticipated revenues and existing spending commitments.
But an exit poll of more than 700 voters Tuesday had mostly good reviews for Brownback two years into his term.
John Mayhon, a 52-year-old north Topeka resident who owns an insurance agency, said he supports Brownback and called criticism of this year's tax cuts "almost a scare tactic," suggesting that the reductions haven't had time to boost economic growth yet.
The GOP right already was in firm control in the House when the August primary set up a commanding conservative majority in the Senate.
Democrats' hopes for picking up seats in the state Senate and House had rested on voters seeing legislative races as a referendum on Brownback and the income tax cuts. Democrats portrayed those cuts as reckless and likely to force the state to slash spending on public schools and social services.
"I don't want our Legislature to be so far to the right. Then Brownback can do what he wants with taxes and school funding," said Ben Garber, 35, an Overland Park electronics salesman and marketer who voted for a Democratic candidate in the Kansas City area suburbs of Johnson County.
Conservatives hoped discontent with President Barack Obama and the federal health care overhaul he championed would taint his fellow Democrats down the ballot in a GOP-leaning state, as it did in 2010.
The federal health care law was an important issue for Don McCulley, a 75-year-old retired DuPont maintenance supervisor from Topeka, and the registered Republican said it influenced his vote down the ballot.
"I think it's a step toward socialism," McCulley said after voting at the Sunrise Optimist Activities Center north of Topeka. "It's just another little piece in the socialism puzzle."
Most key Senate races were in northeast Kansas. Two involved incumbent Democrats from Topeka, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and Sen. Laura Kelly, her party's ranking member on the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. Hensley defeated GOP challenger Casey Moore, and Kelly led Republican Dick Barta, a former Shawnee County sheriff, with most precincts reporting.
Republicans also were hoping to oust the two state senators who formed the Democratic ticket against Brownback two years ago, Baldwin City's Tom Holland, who ran unsuccessfully for governor, and Kultala, the lieutenant governor nominee. Holland won his race against conservative Republican state Rep. Anthony Brown of Eudora.
Former Democratic Rep. Tom Hawk of Manhattan led a conservative Republican in a race that the GOP had figured to win. Hawk's opponent was Bob Reader of Manhattan, who ousted moderate Sen. Roger Reitz, also of Manhattan, in the primary.
But Hawk's possible victory would be offset by the loss of Democratic Sen. Alan Schmidt, of Hays, to Republican Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer of Grinnell, in an incumbent-versus-incumbent race caused by political redistricting.