Although the races for U.S. Senate and Kansas governor are the most visible and significant contests in the Nov. 2 election, those for attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer remain important. Beyond the races themselves, these statewide offices offer the real pathways for advancing to the governorship or Congress.
Yet less than a month from the election, these races remain almost invisible, with just a bit of media beginning to surface. This is typical of such contests.
How might voters think about these low-information races, where they often have little to go on beyond party label and the incumbent's reputation?
The easiest thing to do is just vote for the party. If that happens, Democratic officeholders Attorney General Steve Six, state Treasurer Dennis McKinney, and Secretary of State Chris Biggs are in trouble, as some SurveyUSA polls have indicated. But these polls have grossly oversampled Republicans as likely voters, and other surveys have indicated close races. Still, in a Republican state in a Republican year, with GOP candidates leading the races for governor and senator, being a Republican is a serious advantage.
If Six, McKinney and Biggs were Republicans, they would win going away. But they're not, nor are they true incumbents; all were appointed to replace their predecessors who resigned.
Judging candidates on their records is a solid alternative to party label voting. Although they've been in office varying amounts of time, all have conducted themselves well.
Both Six and McKinney have helped fill the state's coffers by running their offices in a competent, financially responsible manner. Then there's Biggs, who has been secretary of state since March but who was the Kansas securities commissioner since 2003 and administered that office with competence.
Finally, voters can assess these races in terms of the quality of the Republican opponents, and perhaps their aspirations. Given his record as a U.S. Senate staffer and state senator, Derek Schmidt is a strong challenger. At the same time, his legal experience pales in comparison with that of Six, a veteran practicing attorney and former judge.
GOP treasurer candidate Ron Estes has no statewide experience, but as Sedgwick County treasurer, he certainly brings the requisite background to the job. Still, Estes has not found anything to attack McKinney on, except appearing in some TV ads that tout the state's college savings plan.
That leaves Kris Kobach, the Republican candidate for secretary of state. With his frequent travels across the country to defend laws that target illegal immigrants, to say nothing of his highly fraught worries about nonexistent voter fraud, Kobach is actively politicizing the very office responsible for administering election laws. In fact, the secretary of state should be the least political statewide elective office. And Kansas Republicans should think more than twice about blindly following their party label as they vote in this down-ballot election contest.