Former Rep. Paul Davis has been showing up a lot at political events throughout Kansas this summer.
Just in recent weeks, he has spoken at events in Wichita and in southwest Kansas. He was with the Kansas delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last month. And he has more events planned in the coming weeks in southeast Kansas.
His name and face also show up frequently in Democratic Party fundraising emails, all of which have led many people to wonder if he isn't lining up another bid for governor in 2018.
In fact, some party insiders have said privately that they have no doubt Davis is at least eying the 2018 race.
Wednesday night, Davis was stumping in Lawrence where a dozen or so people showed up to meet, and write checks for, 2nd District congressional candidate Britani Potter, who is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins.
During a brief interview there, Davis would only say he's not thinking about the 2018 gubernatorial race, at least not yet.
"We'll think about the future at another point in time," he said. "But I'm still very concerned about the direction the state's going, and I think we have an opportunity to restore some much-needed common sense to the Legislature. That's why I've been as active as I have, trying to help candidates out there. I'm not doing it for my own reasons. I'm doing it because I think it's the best way we can bring about change in this state."
It has been nearly two years since Davis, the former Kansas House Minority Leader, lost the gubernatorial race to incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
It was a loss that still stings for many Democrats. With Brownback's disapproval rating hovering above 50 percent at the time, polls showed Davis ahead throughout most of the race, until the final weeks when Brownback's campaign launched a barrage of negative TV ads against Davis.
Some have also suggested that Brownback was helped by a flood of money from national Republican groups who helped save U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts' struggling re-election campaign that same year.
Davis said he’s had a lot of time to think about what happened in 2014.
“You learn a lot when you run an unsuccessful campaign,” he said. “When you are successful in a campaign, you think you did everything right, and you probably did a number of things wrong. When you are not successful, you tend to take some more time to analyze what all happened.”
“We certainly were swimming upstream in a tough political year across the country, in particular in a red state like Kansas,” he said.
But Democrats also lost five more seats in the Kansas House in 2014, leaving them with only 27. And after losing every statewide and congressional race in each of the last three election cycles, they don't have a deep bench from which to find another viable candidate for governor.
Republicans, however, have a wealth of political talent on their bench. So far, most of the speculation has focused on Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, both of whom have been elected to statewide offices twice.
And there continues to be talk about U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the 2nd District congresswoman whom Potter would like to beat this year. But it's considered a long-shot race at best. Meanwhile, Jenkins recently set up her own state-based political action committee to help fellow Republicans win state legislative races.
Davis acknowledged that the Kansas Democratic Party has a lot of work to do if it hopes to rebuild its own strength in the Legislature, which is often the place where candidates for higher office are groomed.
Specifically, he said Democrats have good chances in some southeast Kansas districts, an area of the state where Democrats once were quite strong. And he said southwest Kansas, with its rapidly growing Latino population, could become competitive in the near future.
“You have a number of legislative districts there that are majority-minority districts,” he said, referring to districts where a majority of the voting-age population are non-white, and therefore statistically more likely than not to vote Democratic. “People just need to be engaged by people who are running for office and engaged by political parties.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was several days late filing a response to a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn one of his signature policies, but plaintiffs in the case say they won't make an issue out of it.
The lawsuit seeks to overturn the state's proof of citizenship law, which Kobach championed in 2011. It also seeks to block a new regulation he enacted that would result in canceling some 30,000 incomplete voter registrations that have been held in suspense because the applicants failed to provide the required citizenship proof.
Mark P. Johnson, lead attorney in the case of Cromwell, et al. vs. Kobach, said his clients would rather win on the merits of the case than on a procedural technicality.
"Although the Plaintiffs could move to strike the Answer and seek a default judgment, such tactics would not be conducive to the court's consideration of the important matters in this case," Johnson wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson. "The Plaintiffs strongly believe that their case has merit, and the Court will so find after a full presentation of the facts and the law."
The plaintiffs filed their complaint Oct. 2. Under procedural rules, Kobach was supposed to have 21 days to respond to the complaint, putting the deadline at Oct. 23. His response wasn't filed until Oct. 29.
Johnson, who practices in the Kansas City office of Dentons US, LLP, law firm in Kansas City, Mo., is also a Kansas University law professor. Also involved in the case is former Democratic Rep. Paul Davis of Lawrence who, as a legislator, voted in favor of the controversial voting law. He says that's because he favored another provision requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona could not deny registration to voters who registered using a federal form that does not ask for proof of citizenship. Since then, Kobach has instituted a "dual" election system in which voters using that form are allowed to vote in federal elections, but not in state or local elections.
A separate case challenging that policy is pending in state court in Shawnee County.
A new SurveyUSA pollfinds that Kansas' Republican political leaders have high job disapproval ratings.
Fifty-eight percent of Kansans disapproved of the job Gov. Sam Brownback was doing while 35 percent approved. U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran had 53 percent and 50 percent disapproval ratings while 35 percent and 37 percent approved, the poll said.
Although within the margin of error, the Republicans' approval rates were even lower than President Barack Obama's, a Democrat, who had a 42 percent approval rate and 56 percent disapproval.
The poll also shows that Democrat Paul Davis, who is challenging Brownback in the 2014 election, has low name identification.
Eight of 10 voters were either neutral or had no opinion about Davis when asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. In fact, his name ID was so low, the pollsters referred to him as "Paul David" instead of "Paul Davis."
Davis' campaign said SurveyUSA planned to re-do that portion of the poll. But Davis' camp said the point of the poll was that it showed that their candidate at this point lacks name ID.
When the poll asked individuals' opinion of Brownback, 22 percent were favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, while the remaining were either neutral or had no opinion.
Meanwhile, Davis was at 7 percent with a favorable opinion, 13 percent unfavorable, while 80 percent were either neutral or had no opinion.
In addition, only 29 percent of those polled approved of the job the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature was doing, while 61 percent disapproved.
The poll of 532 registered voters was released earlier this week and conducted on behalf of KWCH-TV in Wichita. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. Of those polled, 41 percent were Republicans, 30 percent Democrats, and 29 percent independents.