Moran, Tiahrt race ends up rural v. urban — rural wins

It pretty much all came down to country vs. city, and country won.

That in a nutshell is what allowed U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, bolstered by his country roots in the vast 1st Congressional District, to defeat Rep. Todd Tiahrt from the Sedgwick County-dominated 4th in Tuesday's Republican primary for the Senate.

"If you look at the map, this race was as much about urban vs. rural as it was about ideology," Joe Aistrup, political science professor at Kansas State University, said Wednesday.

And while much was made of results from the 1st District, which includes all of western Kansas, and Sedgwick and Johnson counties, Aistrup said the 2nd District made the difference. The 2nd District includes the cities of Topeka, Manhattan and Pittsburg.It covers eastern Kansas, except for Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

"The 2nd is where Tiahrt lost the race and where Moran won it," Aistrup said.

Vote totals show Moran won by strongly sweeping the 1st District, then sealing the deal with a decisive win in the 2nd.

As expected, each congressman dominated his home district. Moran won the 1st with 69 percent of the vote; Tiahrt claimed the 4th with 66 percent.

The 1st District has more registered Republican voters, and Moran emerged from the home district matchup with a lead of roughly 12,000 votes.

Tiahrt made some inroads in the 3rd District, which includes Johnson County, He won with 49 percent to Moran's 44 percent.

"That surprised me," Aistrup said. "Johnson County had been trending toward center-of-the-road conservative as opposed to what might be called the more far right."

Regardless, Tiahrt's nearly 2,800-vote margin in Johnson County wasn't enough to break the deadlock.

The 2nd, like the 1st, is dominated by rural counties. Moran got 52 percent of the vote to Tiahrt's 41 percent there, according to unofficial calculations. He added roughly 8,500 votes to his lead there.

The 2nd also includes Shawnee County, where Topeka is located. It was one of four urban counties where Moran won. The others were Riley (Manhattan), Douglas (Lawrence) and Saline (Salina).

Tiahrt lost despite carrying Sedgwick and Johnson — the counties with the most registered Republican voters.

Rural counties may be small in voting numbers, but their totals add up.

"In the end, Moran was able to fire up more troops in more places than Tiahrt," said Russell Fox, political science professor at Friends University.

Negative campaigning

Negative campaigning also played a role, but only to extent that it made the race closer than expected, analysts say.

Moran won by a margin of 5 percentage points — 50 to 45 percent — after leading by 20 percentage points in an independent poll conducted in June.

"Tiahrt's negative campaign did allow him to close the gap," Aistrup said. "But he didn't win so obviously the strategy was not the total key to victory."

Ken Ciboski, a Wichita State University political science professor, said Tiahrt's campaign rankled the voters in the 1st. Moran, of Hays, served the area first as a state legislator, then as its congressman since 1995.

"The negative campaigning intensified the feelings of the people in the 1st to the point, `We're going to make sure we get to the polls and vote for Jerry Moran,''' Ciboski said. "He's almost like a part of the family out there."

Aistrup had a different view: "I'm not sure it hurt that much because he wasn't going to get that many votes there to start with. Moran's lead in the 1st was overwhelming.

"There was no campaign Tiahrt could wage that would have taken votes away from Moran in the 1st, just as Moran couldn't have run a different campaign to change the outcome in the 4th."

Tiahrt's camp contended that what was perceived as negative campaigning was only presenting facts of Moran's voting record.

Moran's advantages

Aistrup said Tiahrt started the campaign too far in the hole.

"Jerry has been angling for a U.S. Senate seat for a number of years," he said. "Whereas Tiahrt jumped into the thing a little later.

"I don't think he necessarily had cultivated the Republican party quite as well with the idea he wanted to be a senator. He started off in the hole.

"Moran was a little bit better known statewide, and better known in Republican circles. That helped Moran with fund raising."

Through mid-July, Moran had outspent Tiahrt more than 2 to 1 — $4.5 million to $2.2 million.

Moran, during an interview in the wee hours of Wednesday, said he's convinced that his loyal constituents in the 1st helped to offset Tiahrt's campaign by talking to people from other districts.

"I don't know how many times I talked to other voters across the state and they said, 'Your constituents say you're a good congressman,' " Moran said.

He said he's ready to get started on the fall campaign and indicated its centerpiece will be the issues.

"That's what I wanted to do from the very beginning is talk about where we need to take this country," he said. "(The primary) was not the kind of campaign I wanted to be involved in. It was presented to me."

At the same time, he said, "I have no regrets about the campaign. We're just ready to go forward from this day."

Democratic opponent

So is Lisa Johnston, the assistant dean for student academic services at Baker University in Baldwin City.

She won the Democratic primary by collecting 31 percent of the vote.

"It's my hope this will be issue based," said Johnston, 39. "That's what is going to be the most helpful to voters."

She faces a daunting task. Not only hasn't Kansas elected a Democratic senator since 1932, this is her first run at politics. And she faces a well-financed politician with high name recognition.

"I think those who say Kansas will automatically elect a Republican senator are underestimating Kansas," she said. "2010 has been a very interesting year in politics."

Johnston said she spent almost all of the $11,000 she had in her campaign fund during the primary.

"We're rebuilding," she said.

And Moran is marching on. He had nearly $900,000 in his campaign fund through mid-July.