If Hillary Clinton is at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2016 – which at this point appears to be a safe bet – her candidacy could boost Republican candidates in state races.
Kansas Republicans have had a lot of success tying opponents to President Obama in the past three elections. Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts traveled around the state last year in a bus that said “Vote the Kansas Way, Not the Obama Way,” and television ads repeatedly tied Democrat Paul Davis and independent Greg Orman to Obama.
After focusing campaigns on the president, Republicans had a clean sweep in statewide and federal races and gained five seats in the Kansas House. Exit poll data suggest that anti-Obama sentiment played an important role in helping Brownback and Roberts overcome low favorability ratings with voters.
Look for Kansas Republicans to swap out Obama for Clinton in the next election, said Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University.
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“There’s absolutely no reason to change the playbook. Because it’s been working,” Beatty said, noting that several GOP ads airing in the last election featured Obama and Hillary. “Until it doesn’t work in Kansas, Republicans are going to keep nationalizing state and local elections.”
Chapman Rackaway, a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University, agreed that opposition to Clinton’s candidacy would energize the Republican base.
“You’re going to have Republicans nationwide really mobilize this time. They have been out of the presidency for eight years. They feel very put upon by President Obama. They have even more animus towards Hillary Clinton going back to her husband’s presidency, and so I think she becomes very much a touchstone figure.”
He noted that Clinton could generate excitement and increased turnout among Democratic voters.
The Kansas Republican Party has already begun campaigning against Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state and first lady.
“Kansas voters are rallying together to Stop Hillary & we’re counting on you to join the fight. Sign the pledge to prove you’re ready to Stop Hillary,” reads a post on the state party’s Facebook page from April 12, the day Clinton officially announced her candidacy.
The post includes a link to the national party’s website, where, as of Wednesday morning, more than 100,000 people had taken the pledge to “Stop Hillary.”
Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said Republican officials from across the country had a conference call about a month ago to discuss campaigning against Clinton. On Sunday, the national office sent an e-mail to state parties that included graphics and ideas for social media posts.
Clinton is the clear front-runner in the Democratic race and the only Democratic candidate to announce a campaign so far.
RealClearPolitics, a site that aggregates polling data, estimates Clinton to have support of 59.8 percent of voters in the Democratic primary. The closest potential candidate, at 12.2 percent, is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has repeatedly said she has no plans to run.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who have indicated they plan to run, both poll at 1.2 percent, according to RealClearPolitics’ average.
Clinton’s presence at the top of the ticket could be very good for Democrats nationally: RealClearPolitics shows her leading every GOP candidate in a general election match-up. Her closest match-up is with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom she leads by 7.4 percentage points.
But her candidacy could be bad news for Kansas Democrats, who have been pummeled in state elections since 2010.
“She energizes a lot of Republicans to come out and vote against her,” Barker said. “She’s a known quantity. She’s been around for a long time. A lot of people just have a negative feeling towards her, which will motivate some to come out and vote that maybe wouldn’t have. If a Martin O’Malley or someone like that ran, it’s just not the emotion involved, because people don’t know him.”
Higher Republican turnout for the presidential race could help further solidify Republican dominance in the Legislature when seats in the Kansas House and Senate are also up for election.
Despite that, Barker’s not rooting for Clinton to win the nomination as a way to charge up the base in Kansas.
“Like a lot of things, it’s two-edged. Yeah, she brings out a lot of emotion and we get people stirred up on our side,” Barker said. “But she’s a very formidable candidate with a big network behind her and lots of money. … You don’t want to go up against their A-plus player if you don’t have to.”
Beatty noted that Republicans have nearly a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage in Kansas. Until Democrats are able to close that gap, it will be difficult for them to make any gains at the state level, he said.
Melody McCray-Miller, the newly elected vice chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said that increasing the party’s registration numbers “is absolutely a goal.”
“I think Democrats will be extremely competitive because of the message that we will be focused on … that’s looking at Kansas concerns and Kansas issues,” said McCray-Miller, a former member of the Kansas House.
She said she was not concerned that Clinton’s candidacy would negatively affect Democratic candidates in state races and contended that the opportunity to vote for the first female president could help draw Democratic voters to the polls.
“I think we’ve got a couple of things working for us,” McCray-Miller said. “Because it’s going to be a historic – another historic election – it absolutely will push people to go to the polls, and that’s going to work for both sides.”
Candidates for president
Here are major party candidates who have announced campaigns for president.
▪ Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Campaign website: hillaryclinton.com
Campaign contact: 646-854-1432
▪ U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz
Campaign website: tedcruz.org
Campaign contact: 713-353-4330
▪ U.S. Sen. Rand Paul
Campaign website: randpaul.com
Campaign contact: Not listed
▪ U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio
Campaign website: marcorubio.com
Campaign contact: firstname.lastname@example.org