Little-known Kansas state Sen. Tom Holland kicked off his campaign for governor Wednesday, insisting voters deserve an alternative to Republican U.S. Sam Brownback.
Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, said if elected in November he'll focus on creating private-sector jobs and protecting the state's investment in education.
"I'm standing here today to let Kansans know they do have a choice for governor," he said.
Holland's campaign represents the latest attempt by Democrats to find a viable candidate to challenge Brownback, whose campaign for governor is well under way.
Holland, 48, was elected to the state House in 2003. In 2008, he moved to the Senate after beating the Republican incumbent by fewer than 900 votes.
He owns and manages an information technology and professional services company he started with his wife, Barbara. The couple have four children.
"Kansas has been very good to me and my family. But now times have gotten harder. Kansans are facing problems of historic proportions," Holland said. "Our economy is the worst it has been in over two generations. I've seen problems facing our state before, and I have answered the call for Kansans."
The new candidate quickly went on the offensive, calling Brownback a Washington insider who sat by as deficits skyrocketed and the recession took hold.
"Now, Sam Brownback wants to put his failed Washington politics and divisive agenda to work in our state," Holland said. "Enough is enough."
Democratic leaders quickly rallied behind Holland.
"Kansas needs a governor who will be at work early and stay late fighting for struggling families," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. "This is not the type of work ethic Sam Brownback has ever demonstrated amid his perpetual campaigns for higher office."
Republican Party leaders fired back, calling Holland an "Obama-Pelosi liberal." They questioned whether another Democratic candidate might step forward.
"More likely," said Republican Party director Ashley McMillan, Holland's announcement "is a precursor to the real Democratic candidate who will emerge in a few months."
It was essential for the Democrats to find a "credible candidate" according to Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty, if for no other reason than to avoid political embarrassment.
"Not just to give voters an option, but to make sure the Democratic brand is not harmed by the election," Beatty said. "You don't want voters going into the voting booth and saying, 'wow, the Democrats just don't have a good candidate.' "
Gov. Mark Parkinson disappointed many Democrats by announcing he wouldn't run, though many Republicans still expect him to reconsider. Pharmaceutical executive Tom Wiggans announced his candidacy, only to back out a month later.
Holland faces two fellow Democrats in the Aug. 3 primary: Herbert West of Paola, and Marty Mork of Wichita. Neither has held elected office before. West briefly dropped out of the race last month, which he later admitted was a stunt to attract media attention.
Mounting a serious campaign against Brownback will take time, name recognition and campaign money. Brownback, whose campaign started more than a year ago, is well ahead in all three.
"The big question is: how negative he (Holland) will be willing to go," Beatty said. "He's got to make this strong argument: Take a look at me because my opponent is a Washington insider."