Hutchinson Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson will be the only Democratic member from western Kansas when the 2013 legislative session begins in Topeka after three Democratic incumbents were ousted in this week's elections.
Sen. Allen Schmidt of Hays and Reps. Eber Phelps of Hays and Vincent Wetta of Wellington lost their re-election bids Tuesday, continuing a decline of Democratic representation in western Kansas that began years ago, The Hutchinson News reported.
Overall, Democratic numbers in the Kansas Senate and House will be comparable to last session. There will be eight Democratic senators, the same as the 2012 session, and 32 to 34 seats in the House, depending on the outcome of close races. Before the elections, the House had 33 Democrats.
By comparison, western Kansas had two Democratic state senators and 10 House members in 1998.
Dennis McKinney, a former Greensburg state legislator and state treasurer who lost his bid to return to the House, said most of his party's losses have been in rural areas, where the focus of political campaigns has changed from local issues to national concerns.
In the past, McKinney said, a candidate who was endorsed by the Kansas Livestock Association or the Kansas Farm Bureau often won election. But this year, attack ads spread across the region connected Democratic candidates to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, he said.
Phelps and Wetta also said the negative mailings influenced their races.
"We ran a great campaign until all the negative stuff came out," Wetta said.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said in an email to the News that negative campaigning prevailed.
"The Kansas Chamber and Americans for Prosperity spent heavily in most of these races," Davis wrote.
"I blame the Democratic Party, too," said Wetta, who lost to Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Republican from Coldwater.
He said he voted against the national health care act and said he thinks the national and state Democratic Party should "take a real long look" at their direction and priorities.
McKinney agreed that to some extent, Democratic leaders have been out of touch with western Kansas. He said Democrats should be more aggressive on moral issues because Republicans are "very adept" at seizing those issues.
Voters often will vote for the party rather than an individual, said Chapman Rackaway, associate professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.
"These personal friendships can be trumped. This isn't student council," Rackaway said.