A look at the races that could change the balance of power at the Statehouse

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

? Conservative Republicans have enjoyed huge successes in the last three election cycles, taking firm control of the Kansas House in 2010, the year Gov. Sam Brownback was first elected, and then wresting control of the Senate away from moderate Republicans in 2012.

But as the state’s financial condition has worsened, and Brownback’s popularity has plunged into the 20-percent range, conservatives now find themselves on the defense, facing potentially strong challenges from moderate Republicans in the upcoming primaries.

Few people think that moderates can oust enough conservatives to claim a majority within the GOP caucuses, which would enable them to install their own people in leadership positions and committee chairmanships.

But some observers say that with a handful of wins in the primaries, coupled with expected gains by Democrats in the November general elections, together they can put together the kind of governing coalition they once enjoyed during Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ administration.

Although it’s sometimes hard to draw clear lines that separate moderates from conservatives, they generally show up in votes on education funding, tax policy and social issues, including abortion. But the lines can shift depending on the issue, and depending on exactly how any given bill is worded.

And on the ballot, they can often be identified by the groups endorsing them. The Kansas Chamber tends to endorse the most fiscally conservative candidates, while groups such as the Kansas National Education Association and the Johnson County-based Mainstream Coalition tend to endorse the moderates.

Rep. Don Hill, who is widely viewed as being in the moderate camp and who is not running for re-election, estimated that together, Democrats and moderates need to win 10 to 15 of the 125 seats in the House in order to reclaim a governing coalition.

Theoretically, that could be accomplished in the Aug. 2 primaries. There are 39 contested Republican primaries, but not all of those are considered truly competitive races.

Of those 39, there are 16 races in which the Kansas Chamber has lined up with one candidate and either the Mainstream Coalition or KNEA, or both, have endorsed another. And of those, 13 involve incumbent conservatives being challenged by a more moderate candidate.

But Hill said moderates face an uphill climb trying to win all of those races.

“It’s always difficult for a challenger against an incumbent to raise money,” he said. “And there’s the lament that moderate Republicans don’t turn out in primaries to vote.

“There has also been the lament that it’s such a struggle to find capable, worthy candidates,” he added. “But this year there’s an extraordinary number of quality candidates, far above what there have been in the 14 years I’ve been in the Legislature.”

In the 40-member Senate, though, the task will be much harder. With only eight Democrats currently in the Senate, and only four or five moderate Republicans, their coalition would need to pick up eight to 10 seats in order to have a comfortable majority.

There are 16 contested Republican primaries in the Senate, but only seven in which the major moderate and conservative organizations have made endorsements. Five of those involve incumbent conservatives being challenged by moderates, and two involve incumbent moderates facing a conservative challenge.

Following is a list of contested GOP primaries involving incumbents, with their key endorsements, in each chamber, races that could decide the balance of power in the Legislature for the next two years.

House races

District 8 (Johnson County)

Rep. Craig McPherson, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Patty Markley, challenger (Mainstream Coalition, KNEA)

District 14 (Johnson County)

Rep. Keith Esau, incumbent (Kansas Chamber

Leesa Gabel, challenger (Mainstream Coalition, KNEA)

District 17 (Johnson County)

Rep. Brett M. Hildabrand, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Tom Cox, challenger (Mainstream Coalition, KNEA)

District 20 (Johnson County)

Rep. Rob Bruchman, incumbent (Kansas chamber)

Jan H. Kessinger, challenger (Mainstream Coalition, KNEA)

District 28 (Johnson County)

Rep. Jerry Lunn, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Joy Koesten, challenger (Mainstream Coalition, KNEA)

District 30 (Johnson County)

Rep. Randy Powell, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

James A. Dingwerth, challenger (KNEA)

District 38 (Johnson, Leavenworth counties)

Rep. Willie Dove, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Mitra Templin, challenger (Mainstream Coalition, KNEA)

Nathan Lucas, challenger

District 39 (Johnson County)

Rep. Charles Macheers, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Shelee Brim, challenger (Mainstream Coalition, KNEA)

Owen Donohoe, challenger

District 42 (Leavenworth, Douglas counties)

Rep. Connie O’Brien (Kansas Chamber)

Jim Karleskint, challenger (KNEA)

District 43 (Johnson County)

Rep. Bill Sutton, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Donald Roberts, challenger (Mainstream Coalition)

District 64 (Clay and Riley counties)

Rep. Susie Swanson, incumbent (KNEA)

Kathy Martin, challenger (Kansas Chamber)

District 75 (Butler County)

Rep. Will Carpenter, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Mary Martha Good, challenger (KNEA)

District 80 (Cowley, Sumner counties)

Rep. Kasha Kelley, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Anita Judd-Jenkins, challenger (KNEA)

District 104 (Reno County)

Rep. Steven Becker, incumbent (KNEA)

Lowell J. Peachey, challenger (Kansas Chamber)

District 113 (Pratt, Barton, Pawnee and Rice counties)

Rep. Greg Lewis, incumbent (KNEA)

Jon L. Prescott, challenger (Kansas Chamber)

District 114 (Kingman, Reno and Rice counties)

Rep. Jack Thimesch, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Herchel A. Crainer III, challenger (KNEA)

Senate races

District 11 (Johnson County)

Sen. Jeff Melcher, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

John Skubal, challenger (Mainstream Coalition, KNEA)

District 14 (Chautauqua, Butler, Cowley, Labette, Montgomery counties)

Sen. Forrest Knox, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Bruce Givens, challenger (KNEA)

District 20 (Shawnee, Wabaunsee counties)

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, incumbent (KNEA)

Joe Patton, challenger (Kansas Chamber)

District 28 (Sedgwick County)

Sen. Mike Petersen, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Jo L. Hillman, challenger (KNEA)

District 31 (Sedgwick County)

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, incumbent (KNEA)

Renee Erickson, challenger (Kansas Chamber)

District 34 (Reno, Kingman counties)

Sen. Terry Bruce, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Edward E. Berger, challenger (KNEA)

District 39 (Finney, Grant, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Kearney, Morton, Stanton, Stevens and Wichita counties)

Sen. Larry Powell, incumbent (Kansas Chamber)

Rep. John Doll, challenger (KNEA)