Democrats search for governor candidates

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

But no one had an answer to one of the biggest questions facing the party: Who is their 2010 gubernatorial candidate?

The top names floating around are state Sen. Chris Steineger of Kansas City, and Larry Gates, the state party chairman.

Neither has committed.

"I'm considering it very strongly," Gates said in a brief interview. "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 that 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 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.

Overcoming anxiety

Several of the state's top Democrats acknowledged that many are nervous about the 2010 elections.

But those party leaders reassured the roughly 250 people packed into a conference room at the Hyatt Regency hotel.

Parkinson, a former Republican, said Democrats hold more seats on the state and national levels than they have at many points in history.

And he said the party is better suited to help people and emerge from the recession.

He said many people ask him about the differences he's noticed between Republicans and Democrats. One, he said, is that he hadn't heard Republicans thank the servers during a speech as State Treasurer Dennis McKinney had done minutes before.

Parkinson vowed that Democrats would be the party to ensure a top-notch education for all children.

He said Democrats best understand that the fight for equality for women and minorities hasn't yet been won.

And he said that his party won't let gay marriage be a wedge issue that divides people.

"Ideas are more powerful than armies," he said. "They're more powerful than the threat that an incumbent can pose."