Will Kansas see a ‘blue wave’ on Election Night 2020? Here’s how you may be able to tell as results come in
photo by: AP File Photos
Recent polling of national and statewide races in Kansas indicates that the Sunflower State, typically a Republican stronghold, will see closer races than it has in decades this Election Day, which is Nov. 3.
Republican President Donald Trump won Kansas by 21 percentage points in 2016, but a poll of 755 voters released Thursday from the New York Times and Siena College showed that the incumbent president is only leading former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden by 7%, with a 4% margin of error and 11% of respondents undecided.
While a 14-point shift toward the Democratic presidential candidate in traditionally-Republican Kansas raises eyebrows not only in the state, but across the U.S., it’s potentially indicative of voting trends that became apparent in the 2018 midterm elections.
In 2018, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly defeated Republican Kris Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State and a conservative firebrand, by 5%, and Kansas elected its first Democratic member of Congress since 2006 in Sharice Davids.
Kelly is only the fifth Democratic governor to be elected in Kansas since 1966, but her victory over a candidate that alienated many members of his own party and traditionally-Republican voters is a trend worth watching, especially given Trump’s precipitous fall from the widespread approval he saw in Kansas in 2016.
While Trump will still almost certainly win Kansas and its six electoral votes, this trend will most likely present itself on Nov. 3 in the race between Democrat Barbara Bollier and Republican Roger Marshall for U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts’ open seat.
Polling of the Senate race indicates that Kansas will almost certainly see its closest election since 1974 and could elect a Democrat to the seat for the first time since 1932.
The 1974 race saw former Republican Sen. Bob Dole nearly defeated by a Democrat challenger in a groundswell of voting following the Watergate scandal involving Republican president Richard Nixon, with Dole winning by just over 1% of the vote. Since then, the closest race for Kansas Senate has been a 9-point victory by Roberts in 2014 over Greg Orman, a well-funded businessman who ran as an independent.
But the 2020 race between Bollier, a Democrat who until two years ago was a lifelong moderate Republican, and Marshall, the current Republican representative of Kansas’ 1st Congressional District, is almost certain to be razor-thin if pollsters have correctly gauged the stance of the Kansas electorate.
The New York Times poll has Bollier trailing Marshall by only 4%, which is within the poll’s margin of error. This means that the race could actually be a dead heat, or Marshall could be up by as much as 8%, but it’s too close to say with certainty who would win on Election Day.
Patrick Miller, a KU professor of political science who specializes in polling and election methodology, said that polling in the Bollier-Marshall race has been “remarkably consistent” since Marshall won the crowded Republican primary in August. This indicates that the race truly will be decided by the thinnest of margins — since no poll that wasn’t conducted by either campaign has had a candidate ahead by more than a handful of points.
While Miller said that bellwethers — or indicators to watch on Election Night — aren’t always the best indicator of how races will turn out, he said that if Bollier were to defeat Marshall, her electoral map would likely look fairly similar to Kelly’s 2018 map.
“I think given the trends, there are certain things that if Bollier is going to win or come close, they have to happen, right? She has to have a strong margin in Johnson County,” Miller said. “If she’s barely winning Johnson County or she’s losing Johnson County, that’s certainly not a good sign.”
“She needs strong margins in Shawnee and Douglas and Wyandotte (Counties),” he said. “It doesn’t have to be the same map (as Kelly in 2018), but I would expect a close race no matter who comes out.”
What the race will likely come down to, Miller said, are the voters who are undecided about the presidential candidates but lean toward voting for Trump being willing to split their ticket and vote for Bollier in the Senate race.
“It’s probably an easier task for Marshall, but it’s conceivably not impossible for Bollier to win those ticket-splitters, your soft Trump voters, your less-conservative Republicans,” Miller said.
Kansas in 2016 had no pivot counties — or counties that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump four years later — but it did have seven counties in 2018 which voted for Kelly after handily voting for Trump two years earlier: Sedgwick County, Harvey County, Riley County, Lyon County, Shawnee County, Johnson County and Crawford County.
All told, if Bollier is to become the first Democrat elected to represent Kansas in the Senate since 1932, these are the Kansas counties to keep an eye on this Election Night. This list includes Douglas and Wyandotte counties, which voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, but according to Miller also need to have strong turnouts and margins of victory for Bollier if she’s to win the seat.
Correction: A previous version of this story included the wrong list of counties that voted for Gov. Laura Kelly after voting for President Donald Trump. Those seven counties are Sedgwick County, Harvey County, Riley County, Lyon County, Shawnee County, Johnson County and Crawford County.