Demofest features lots of speeches, but no hats in gubernatorial ring

WICHITA — Several of Kansas' top Democrats gave energetic speeches to a lunch crowd at the party's annual Demofest in Wichita today.

But still no one had an answer to one of the biggest questions facing the party: who their 2010 gubernatorial candidate is.

The top name floating around is Larry Gates, the state party chairman.

"I'm considering it very strongly," he said in a brief interview today. "I just think these campaigns are too long."

Gates, a lawyer, said that if he decides to run, it will be on a message of contrast.

He said in tough economic times "someone with a business background is better suited to lead us out of this recession than someone who comes from Washington with Washington ideas."

Gov. Mark Parkinson, who reaffirmed his decision not to enter the race, said today that he has encouraged Gates to run.

"I think Larry Gates would be a terrific governor and I say that because he's a successful businessperson who understands how to manage through these challenging times," he said in a short interview after his speech.

Sen. Sam Brownback has been the Republicans' front-runner for months.

Parkinson said a gubernatorial candidate probably has to announce in the fall before the election year because it's difficult to raise money during the legislative session.

He said he expects to hear an announcement in the next "few weeks."

Gates said he hasn't set a timeline for a decision.

"Our candidate for governor will have plenty of time to put the necessary resources together to mount a very aggressive campaign and bring a message of contrast and give the voters an opportunity to choose," he said.