Opinion Columns & Blogs

Chapman Rackaway: Kansas Republicans made turn to the right

The lesson to learn from last week's Republican primary probably was overshadowed by Jerry Moran's victory for the U.S. Senate over Todd Tiahrt.

Looking only at Moran's narrow win over Tiahrt, the center right appeared to win over the conservative wing of the GOP. Look beneath the surface, and a clear turn to the right occurred. Except for Moran's 20,000-vote win, the center failed to hold in Republican politics on Tuesday.

After a bruising and attack-filled campaign, Moran's victory looked like a triumph for the moderate wing of the GOP. Tiahrt was supported by a who's who of conservative politics: a tea party organization, the National Rifle Association and Sarah Palin. Moran's personal following in the conservative 1st Congressional District, though, was an advantage that Tiahrt could not overcome.

But Moran was one of few center-right candidates who experienced any success on primary night.

In the 1st District, Tim Huelskamp won handily over two more moderate rivals, Tracey Mann and Jim Barnett. Polls had suggested the contest was a three-way race, but in reality the fight for the nomination was no race at all. Barnett and Mann split the centrist vote, which opened the door for the front-running conservative.

In the 4th Congressional District, Mike Pompeo won by an even bigger margin over Wink Hartman and Jean Schodorf, though, like Huelskamp, he failed to win more than 40 percent of the vote. Pompeo and Huelskamp established an early and consistent home on the right, and it paid off for each.

Democratic nominee Raj Goyle might make life difficult for Pompeo. But in the end, both districts are likely to send far-right Republicans to Washington, D.C.

In the contest for Cedar Crest, Democratic nominee Tom Holland can look back to 2002 for an example of how a smart Democratic candidate beat a conservative Republican. Sam Brownback is still the prohibitive favorite to win. But to ensure victory, Brownback must establish himself as a conservative who can appeal to the center as well.

Republicans might reap the whirlwind for nominating a far-right conservative in the secretary of state's race. Ron Thornburgh held the position for 15 years, but on his resignation Gov. Mark Parkinson appointed Chris Biggs to the post. Biggs won his primary over Chris Steineger and will face Kris Kobach in the general election.

Kobach had name recognition, but his reputation as the far-right outlier and a disastrous term as state GOP chairman might just hand the secretary of state's position to a Democrat for the first time in a generation.

Kobach's tenure as state GOP chairman was a series of missteps, from an ill-advised loyalty oath to open infighting among the moderate and conservative wings. Most unflattering of all was the sloppy accounting work, which led to Federal Elections Commission investigations that revealed the state party accepted illegal contributions and failed to pay both state and federal taxes. Kobach also was involved in writing Arizona's controversial illegal-immigration bill. Biggs' opposition research has been written for him, which spells trouble for Kobach and the GOP in November.

Despite numerous candidates winning with less than 40 percent of the vote in their races, Kansas Republican voters made a clear step to the right. November will tell if the Republicans can succeed with this conservative shift, or if we will see the history of 2002 repeat itself.