Kansas isn’t always a political bellwether, but it’s one of those states where Democrats achieved some success in recent years, leaving out-of-state Republicans asking, “How did we lose that one?”
The good news for Republicans is that with former governor Kathleen Sebelius now running Health and Human Services, her replacement (Mark Parkinson) saying he’s not interested in running for another term, and former Attorney General Paul Morrison’s career having ended with a sex scandal, the Democrats’ bench is pretty depleted. As the Kansas City Star puts it, “Roughly 18 months before the 2010 election, Democrats are left without any obvious beaus or belles to compete with Republicans in statewide races for governor and an open U.S. Senate seat.”
So in Kansas, the hot contests this cycle are likely to be the Republican primaries. The governor’s race already features two well-known candidates, Sen. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh. Two GOP congressmen, Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran, are running to replace Brownback.
With Moran’s seat in Kansas’s gargantuan First District open (it’s basically the western half of the state, with 66 counties), you’ve got Rob Wasinger, a longtime staffer for Brownback, against State Sen. Tim Huelskamp. Behind those two are Tim Barker, Tracey Mann, and Sue Boldra. Why all the interest? With an extraordinarily heavily Republican district, this is one of those seats where the incumbent Republican is likely to be serving in the House of Representatives for as long as desired. Policy differences are pretty mimimal; at this point Huelskamp has a slight margin in cash on hand. In a district that has no major media markets and is overwhelmingly rural, with more farms than any other House district in the country, this is a race that will be won by campaigning town by town, county by county.
Tiahrt’s Fourth District, centered around Wichita, is almost as heavily Republican, although it occasionally votes Democratic in some state contests, according to Michael Barone. Announced Republican candiates include GOP committeeman Mike Pompeo and state Rep. Dick Kelsey. The Democrats are hoping to get either Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer or state Sen. Raj Goyl into the race.