Primary contests don’t always tell you much about general elections. The number of people who show up to vote is so small, and so selective, that it’s rare that a primary election allows for predictions about how the main contest in three or four or five months will go.
That said, Tuesday’s primary in Kansas does tell us a few things – things that are likely to be of some real concern to Republicans.
The main message, looking at the vote counts for victorious Republican incumbents Gov. Sam Brownback (63 to 37 percent over Jennifer Winn), Secretary of State Kris Kobach (65 to 35 percent over Scott Morgan), 1st District congressman Tim Huelskamp of Fowler (55 to 45 percent over Alan LaPolice) and Sen. Pat Roberts (barely clearing 48 percent of all votes cast) is pretty clear: Their support among their own party is soft at best.
When you see more than a third of all the registered Republicans who bother to cast a vote in a primary choosing someone other than the official flag-bearer for their party, you’ve got to be worried.
Of course, a good many of those registered Republican voters who went with the challengers will come around and support the incumbent in November. Many others likely were single-issue voters who were just trying to send a protest and don’t consider themselves Republicans anyway. But that still leaves thousands of other self-identified Republicans who quite possibly either will not vote in November or may consider voting for the Democratic challenger. And in a race where incumbents such as Brownback and Kobach already face large negatives with many voters, that has to be worrying.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, will almost certainly not suffer any consequences in November from the legacy of his sometimes nasty primary win. Roberts likely won’t either; though it is clear to everyone looking at the returns that he is viewed by a large percentage of Kansas Republicans as unimpressive, Kansas’ strong Republican tilt will guarantee that so long as he denounces “Obamacare” frequently enough, no Democratic challenger is likely to hurt him. And the same goes with Huelskamp.
As many doubts apparently exist among some of the Republican Party primary electorate about these individuals’ competence, national narratives about fighting Washington, D.C., still seem likely to carry them through with mainstream Republican voters.
But what about the state races? Brownback, Kobach and all the rest of the state GOP will play the anti-Obama card, and that will likely be more than sufficient to remind a majority of Kansas Republicans of the reason for their party identification. But how large a majority is the question.
Surely many of the GOP voters who chose not to support current state Republican incumbents in this primary did so because they simply wanted to send a message, and they may well have been successful. Brownback talked Tuesday night about how in November we would see a “moderate-conservative” bloc come together in support of the GOP, which backs away from the moderate-purging Brownback revolution of the past few years.
But that won’t be the case for all of those tens of thousands of Republicans who voted against these incumbents. With strong and potentially well-funded Democratic challengers facing them in November, Brownback and Kobach can’t afford to lose these voters.