Elections hinge on which Republicans turn out to vote

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, left, and independent challenger Greg Orman, right, during campaign stops the week before the Nov. 4, 2014 election.

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, stops in Topeka to stump for Sen. Pat Roberts. Roberts has been relying on national GOP figures to mobilize the conservative base and remind voters that race could decide which party controls the Senate next year.

? As the 2014 election campaign draws to a close, candidates for governor and U.S. Senate are making their final push to get out the vote for Nov. 4.

In a heavily Republican state like Kansas, the size of the GOP turnout is always important. But this year, the question is more about which Republican voters turn out as Democrats, Independents and Republicans all make appeals to different segments of the highly fractured party.

“This is a very critical election,” Sen. Pat Roberts said to campaign volunteers who rallied at the Kansas Republican Party headquarters in Topeka last week. “The country is counting on us to get this right. Kansas will actually determine whether or not we have a Republican majority.”

That has been a common theme in the Roberts campaign, which has tried to make the election a referendum on President Barack Obama and the current Democratic leadership in the Senate.

It’s part of a larger GOP effort to appeal to the conservative Republican base, which strongly disapproves of the president and the Democratic agenda on issues such as health care, immigration and environmental protection. And it’s why Roberts has leaned heavily this year on national GOP figures to campaign with him, like 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who came to Kansas earlier in the week, and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a rising figure in the tea party movement who was with Roberts in Topeka.

But polls also show there are a large number of Republican voters who are unhappy with the ultra-conservative direction the party has taken. Many of them also disapprove of Roberts, whom they see as having lost touch with Kansas, and with the hyper-partisanship in Congress.

Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman rallies campaign volunteers in Topeka on Saturday in the final push to get out the vote for Tuesday's election.

“This is the race where we send that message. This is the race where we say you cannot hide behind your party label,” independent challenger Greg Orman said at a similar rally with volunteers who gathered at a Topeka tavern Saturday morning just before going door-to-door to drum up last-minute support.

In the race for governor, both major campaigns are making similar appeals.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, appealing to the conservative base, has repeatedly referred to Democratic challenger Paul Davis as “an Obama liberal,” while Davis has touted the support he’s getting from moderate Republican leaders like the group Republicans for Kansas Values, whose members disapprove of Brownback’s tax policies and cuts to base education funding.

According to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, 39 percent of likely Republican voters have an unfavorable opinion of Brownback, and 34 percent of Republicans say they intend to vote for Davis.

In the Senate race, the trend is the same: 38 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Roberts, and 31 percent say they intend to vote for Orman.

Most of the polls done in Kansas are based on the assumption that about 55 percent of all the voters who cast ballots this year will be registered Republicans. But the question about GOP turnout this election is not necessarily about how many of them vote, but which ones.

Patrick Miller, a Kansas University political science professor who studies polling and elections, says the odds appear to be in favor of Orman and Davis.

“The indication from the polls is that those voters are angry, and those voters vote,” Miller said “If you look at the undecideds in all the polls, they do tend to lean more Republican. One consistent theme is they do disapprove of Roberts and Brownback. They also disapprove of Obama. They seem to not like any of the incumbents.”

Bob Beatty, who teaches political science at Washburn University, agreed. But he said there is still room for Roberts and Brownback to close the gap.

“Just by sheer statistics, a massive Republican turnout (more than 55 percent of the total vote) is going to be bad for Davis and Orman,” Beatty said. “But if there’s a normal Republican turnout, it should be okay with them. A little bit higher than average Democratic turnout could seal the deal.”