There are a lot of murmurs among top Republicans that Sam Brownback, Kansas’s Republican governor, is finished. He’s trailed in four of the last six polls, and a top Republican operative tells me that even the Republican Governors Association has thrown in the towel on the race. Two top Republican pollsters say he’s likely to lose.
Brownback, who was known chiefly as a social conservative during his two terms in the Senate, has focused primarily on fiscal issues during his four years as governor: He cut the personal income-tax rate by almost half and exempted income earned by sole proprietors from state income taxes entirely, something that had never been tried before. To implement this agenda in moderate Kansas, he made a move that, if he loses tomorrow, many will point to as a turning point that sowed the seeds of his demise.
With the help of outside donors, Brownback successfully went after moderates in his own party, and he largely succeeded in defeating them in primary races two years ago. Brownback’s tax cuts were the subject of major disputes; the moderate Republicans said they were too severe, and they accused Brownback of signing them into law in May of 2012 through an act of legislative legerdemain. The same year, the moderate-Republican faction in the legislative managed to block several other initiatives Brownback had championed.
In the November midterms, with money from Americans for Prosperity and other free-market groups, Brownback got revenge when he helped to oust seven of the moderate legislators in their primary races. While he may have cleared the way for his legislative agenda, he also created enemies: Several of the defeated lawmakers went on to join “Republicans for Davis,” a group of Kansas Republicans that joined to back Paul Davis, the Democratic house minority leader and Brownback’s opponent in this fall’s race. Many members of the group have backed Democrats in previous elections but it was also buoyed by addition of enemies newly created by the governor. Legislators who came under assault and managed to survive became Brownback’s sworn enemies in the state house.
A victory in Kansas will cheer Democrats on what may otherwise be a depressing day for their party. Brownback’s experiment in something like pure conservative governance will be held up as a failure widely applicable; on the Republican side, its meaning will be much analyzed.
As President Obama might say, in Kansas, the perfect may have been the enemy of the good.