Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump could be a drag on some of the party’s down-ballot candidates in Kansas, the Kansas Republican Party’s executive director said Tuesday.
“I don’t think it’s a plus for us, the presidential campaign,” said Clay Barker, the state party’s executive director. “It’s not giving us anything.”
Trump is polling well in some parts of the state but underperforming in others despite Kansas’ status as a Republican stronghold.
“Johnson County is the heart of where Republicans are unhappy with Trump and probably won’t vote for him,” Barker said, citing a data analysis from the Republican National Committee. “It’s kind of wherever it’s more affluent and people have safe, secure lives they don’t want it rumbled.”
Barker said the party has seen this phenomenon “a little bit” in Wichita, but that it’s concentrated most acutely in the Kansas City suburbs.
“But yeah, of all the places in Kansas, Johnson County, the presidential campaign is a drag or a headwind on our candidates. And I don’t think it’s going to cause Republicans, like core Republicans, to not vote for (Jerry) Moran, (Kevin) Yoder, whoever,” Barker said. “But it’s going to affect the true independent, unaffiliated voter who doesn’t have a strong tie to the Republican Party. They might vote for (Hillary) Clinton and it wouldn’t surprise me if Clinton wins the 3rd District.”
Barker said it could affect state legislative candidates “if somebody starts voting for Clinton and just goes down the ballot Democrat.”
Candidates face the difficult choice of whether to embrace Trump or push back on the party’s presidential candidate, Barker said.
“You can’t push back too hard or his supporters will get fired up, but if you like him too much then a lot of the people in the middle – and especially women, I think, are the biggest problem — they’ll just say the hell with this,” he said.
The state’s congressional candidates have embraced Trump more as a way to oppose Clinton despite policy disagreements and other concerns with their party’s candidate.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, who faces a tough re-election fight in the 3rd Congressional District, said last month that Clinton has “such a horrible track record of leadership in this country, it’s dangerous to think about her as the president.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Wichita Republican who represents the 4th Congressional District, said he urges “every Republican to acknowledge the fact that we have a choice between two candidates.”
“You’re either working to defeat Hillary Clinton or you’re working to get her elected,” he said in an interview this week. “And I intend to work to defeat Hillary Clinton until the very last vote is cast on Nov. 8.”
State Rep. Joseph Scapa, R-Wichita, said that when he goes door to door, voters tell him they’re unhappy with both parties’ candidates this year.
“People say, ‘Is this the best we can do? These two candidates?’ ” Scapa said. “I can’t argue with them. I don’t think we have two good choices.”
Scapa said he will support Trump in the general election “because I think our candidate is still better than the other party’s candidate.”
Barker said moderate Republicans, many of whom won legislative primaries in August by campaigning against Gov. Sam Brownback’s policies, face a particular challenge when it comes to Trump.
“They have to thread the needle,” Barker said. “If you come out as anti-Brownback or Trump, then the conservatives will be mad at you. And if you look like you’re too close to them, then more the people in the middle are against you.”
“They run as anti-Brownback. Well, the Democrat can always outdo them on that issue, so how do they distinguish themselves?” Barker continued. “If they go too conservative, then their supporters may walk away. And if they go too moderate, then the conservatives won’t vote for them.”
Contributing: Hunter Woodall of the Kansas City Star