Standing before about 65 supporters, state Sen. Tom Holland introduced himself Saturday morning as a moderate Democratic candidate for governor and said his more well-known opponent, Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, supported policies that led to the economic crisis.
"Now, I know Sam Brownback has out-of-state money and Washington interests supporting him," Holland said. "I know the road ahead will be difficult. But I care so deeply about Kansans and our future that I gladly accept the challenge."
The rally was Holland's first in Wichita since announcing his candidacy Wednesday in Topeka. Before speaking, he landed robust endorsements from Lt. Gov. Troy Findley and former Lt. Gov. Tom Docking.
"Tom Holland is the real deal," Findley told the crowd. "He can win this race."
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Docking cast Holland as a native Midwesterner, husband, father and man of integrity.
"He cares about people," Docking said. "He's a moderate. He's one of us."
Despite the endorsements, Holland faces a challenge in getting his name out and catching up with Brownback, who has been campaigning for months.
Holland, a 48-year-old small-business owner from Baldwin City, shrugged it off and said he has plenty of time to travel the state and introduce himself before the election in November.
Holland shouldn't have trouble getting his name out, and that he is relatively unknown will probably be a benefit, said Mel Kahn, a political science professor at Wichita State University.
Many voters are angry at Washington, D.C., and that could hurt a two-term senator and help a newcomer, Kahn said.
"I just don't think it's going to be the slam dunk for Brownback I initially though it was going to be," he said.
Holland dedicated roughly a third of his speech to casting Brownback, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, as a divisive Washington insider who is part of the problem that led to an increase in the federal debt and the economic crisis.
"During his 16 years in Washington, we've seen nothing but more debt, more gridlock and more partisanship," he said. "We won't solve today's challenges by bringing Washington's problems to Kansas."
That seemed to resonate with Carol Stange, a Wichitan who showed up to see Holland for the first time.
Holland faces a tough battle, she said. "But hopefully we've come to a tipping point where we've had enough divisiveness. We've had enough of Sam Brownback and enough of the extreme right."
Brownback's campaign did not return a call for comment Saturday, but it has responded to similar criticisms by saying that Brownback is focused on creating jobs and a healthy economy for Kansas.
Holland has become the front-runner in the Democratic primary. Tom Wiggans withdrew from the race after questions were raised about his involvement in a class-action lawsuit. Political newcomers Herbert West of Paola and Marty Mork of Wichita also plan to be on the Aug. 3 primary ballot.
Holland was elected to the Kansas House in 2002. He was elected to the state Senate in 2008, representing rural Douglas, Leavenworth and Jefferson counties.
He said he learned about being responsive to customers from his father, who was a salesman. He and his wife, Barbara, moved to Kansas 20 years ago for a job with the Santa Fe Railway in Topeka. They now own and manage an information technology and professional services company.
Holland said Kansans are losing their jobs and are worried about the future.
"The next Kansas governor must find solutions to these difficult problems and put people back to work, not repeat the mistakes of the past," he said.