Voters in Kansas face one of the busiest ballots in recent years. Offices of governor, U.S. Senate, secretary of state, insurance commissioner and the state’s four congressional districts are up for grabs. Here are some things to watch for on Tuesday:
TOP OF THE TICKET
The hottest contest comes in the Senate, where three-term incumbent Republican Pat Roberts was locked up with wealthy independent Greg Orman in a battle seen as key to Republican hopes of taking the Senate. A year ago, a serious challenge to Roberts seemed nearly implausible, but skeptical tea party conservatives put forward a primary challenger against Roberts in August. Roberts survived, but many of those conservatives remain unconvinced he deserves a fourth term.
Roberts’ former Senate colleague, Gov. Sam Brownback, is also in a tight re-election race with Democrat Paul Davis. Like the Senate race, a close contest for governor seemed unlikely a year ago, but that was before unhappiness emerged — even among some Republicans — over Brownback’s successful push to aggressively cut income taxes that critics say are jeopardizing the state’s budget.
KOBACH ALSO IN TROUBLE?
Down the ballot, Kris Kobach also faced a feisty challenge to keep his job as secretary of state against Democrat Jean Schodorf. Schodorf seemed to score points during her campaign by suggesting Kobach was overreaching in his job by both advocating for tougher voter ID laws but also pressing Democrats to field a new Senate candidate after Chad Taylor’s surprising exit from that race. Still, Kobach’s fight to toughen voter registration laws has made him a champion among social conservatives, and he was the favorite heading into Tuesday.
Worth noting: Retiring Republican insurance commissioner Sandy Praeger has endorsed Democrat Dennis Anderson in the race to succeed her over the GOP’s Ken Selzer. Praeger has proven to be a political oddity in Kansas, where she has broken ranks with her party over the Affordable Care Act and backed challengers to both Roberts and Brownback.
For the most part, Republicans appeared in control of the state’s congressional districts, with Kevin Yoder, Lynn Jenkins and Mike Pompeo favored for re-election in the 3rd, 2nd and 4th districts, respectively.
The most interesting race appeared to be in the 1st District, where lingering anger toward incumbent Republican Tim Huelskamp created hope for Democratic challenger Jim Sherow, a former Manhattan mayor and Kansas State University history professor.
Sherow challenged Huelskamp across the sprawling district despite long odds in a heavily Republican region against a well-funded incumbent. Even in the campaign’s waning days it remained unclear how vulnerable Huelskamp was because there was no reliable independent polling on the race.
Huelskamp has angered farmers after his own party leaders removed him from the House agricultural committee. Huelskamp also repeatedly voted against the farm bill and against funding for the national biosecurity lab being built in Manhattan. He further irritated constituents by co-sponsoring legislation that would phase out the renewable energy standard while representing a district with 11 biofuel plants and vast fields of corn and sorghum that form the backbone of its rural economy.
WHAT WILL TUESDAY TELL US?
The strongest potential message voters would send to Kansas Republicans could come in the governor’s race, where a Brownback loss would speak volumes about how citizens viewed Brownback’s effort to rewrite the state’s tax rules. Months of tax collection shortfalls since the cuts were enacted created worries among many Kansans that the cuts went too far, and his critics say they’ve hurt the state’s ability to fund education. A Brownback loss could embolden Davis to dial the cuts back, an effort that holds its own risks for Davis because he’ll likely be working with a Legislature that has little motivation to work with him.
A Brownback victory, however, could be seen as a go-sign to continue down the tax-cut road. Brownback has said he would like to eventually get rid of the state’s income taxes altogether.
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