Tuesday’s primary election was hardly a game changer for conservative Kansas, though some returns delivered unmistakable messages for the incumbents and forecast real races ahead.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s re-election bid was never in doubt at the primary, and he won easily over Wichita businesswoman Jennifer Winn. But that so many Republicans favored an unknown one-issue candidate to Brownback is another sign of the discontent with the governor within the GOP ranks, to go along with the recent endorsements by 100 Republicans of Democrat Paul Davis and numerous opinion surveys.
As expected, Secretary of State Kris Kobach also won big Tuesday, against high-quality challenger Scott Morgan, but now must defend his controversial record on and off the Kansas taxpayers’ clock in a challenge from Democrat Jean Schodorf.
Kansas Republican voters threw cold water on the heat of the nationally watched campaigns for the U.S. Senate and 4th Congressional District seats, sticking with Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, over tea party firebrand Milton Wolf and former congressman Todd Tiahrt, respectively.
The arguments that Roberts didn’t qualify as either a conservative or a Kansan lacked credibility, especially coming from a physician revealed to have found humor in grisly X-rays online. But it was telling that Roberts didn’t win 50 percent of the vote, and now he has to hope the ill will created by his negative ads against Wolf won’t weaken him going against Democrat Chad Taylor.
And what can be said about Tiahrt? He was so well-liked during his productive 16 years in Congress that the contest should have been closer. But voters couldn’t make sense of Tiahrt’s motives for running again or misleading criticisms of Pompeo.
Though Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, prevailed in the 1st Congressional District, he let political newcomer Alan LaPolice get uncomfortably close. Huelskamp hasn’t paid with his job – yet – for his ejection from the House Agriculture Committee, vote against the farm bill and general inability to work well with others in the House GOP caucus or even the Kansas delegation. But the farm groups’ unhappiness with Huelskamp isn’t going away anytime soon either, and his bad behavior should help Tuesday’s winning Democrat, James Sherow, in the fall.
The five-way GOP race to replace Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger shook out in favor of Ken Selzer, who now takes on Democrat Dennis Anderson.
Closer to home, conservative Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau defended his District 4 seat against one predecessor, Republican Carolyn McGinn, and will face another – Democrat Melody McCray-Miller, in what now seems like the key battle for control of the commission and the direction of county governance. That’s because the more conservative of two Republicans in District 5, state Rep. Jim Howell, easily defeated Derby Mayor Dion Avello.
So the lessons of the primary went deeper than the win-loss column, raising expectations for an interesting autumn.