TOPEKA — Kansas voters sent U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran to the Senate with a huge victory margin Tuesday night, something his fellow Republicans had expected in a race against an articulate but little-known, first-time Democratic candidate.
Moran's win over Democrat Lisa Johnston, a college administrator, fit with the Republican nominee's status in the GOP-leaning state. Kansas hasn't elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932.
Also, Moran easily tapped into many voters' discontent with President Obama and his fellow Democrats over the economy and the new federal health care law.
"I'm humbled," Moran told the Associated Press by phone from Hays, where he and his supporters were celebrating his victory. "With success tonight comes great responsibility as we try to turn this country around."
Moran, 56, from Hays, also has a folksy, approachable image built with hundreds of town hall meetings as a congressman. He's represented the sprawling 1st Congressional District of central and western Kansas since 1997.
Moran will replace U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican who opted to give up the seat and run for governor.
Johnston, a 39-year-old resident of the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, has been on leave from her job as an assistant dean at Baker University in Baldwin City. Democrats who met her or heard her speak often came away with a favorable impression.
It didn't translate into votes. She had only a small fraction of the campaign funds that Moran did, and the two never debated, further limiting her visibility.
But Johnston told the AP that she had "a wonderful time" campaigning and meeting voters.