Statehouse race features high numbers of Democrats, moderate Republicans

In the August primaries, many conservative Republicans who supported Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback were ousted from the race in favor of moderate Republicans.

The results of the primaries surprised some people.

“When you had candidates beat in Republican primaries in recent years in Kansas and other places, it’s usually been because they weren’t conservative enough,” said Neal Allen, Wichita State assistant professor of political science. “This year was a reversal in Kansas.”

Others were not as surprised.

“Is it surprising that some of his supporters were voted out in the primary? No,” said George Dehner, Wichita State associate professor of history.

In addition to moderate Republicans now being on the ballots for the General Election, an unprecedented number of Democrats are running for seats in the Kansas Statehouse. Democrats are challenging Republicans in nearly every race for the Statehouse.

The higher number of Democratic challengers for the Statehouse does not surprise Dan Giroux, the Democratic candidate for the 4th U.S. Congressional District in Kansas, which covers south central Kansas including Wichita.

“I think we all knew, especially considering the state of the state, that you’re going to have an unprecedented number of not only Democrats, but also moderate Republicans that were going to file this year,” Giroux said.

While a large number of Democrats are running for seats in the Statehouse, they may not pick up many seats.

“There’s a much larger history in Kansas of Republican-leaning voters voting for moderate Republicans, but less so voting for Democrats, especially when the Democratic party is identified pretty heavily these days with fairly liberal figures, at least by Kansas standards,” Allen said.

Dehner said he expects some gains by Democrats in the Statehouse.

“Is it going to be significant in terms of Democrats picking up seats? I would be surprised,” Dehner said. “I also agree that a lot of people see the ‘D’ and they’re not willing to pull that lever no matter what.”

Voter turnout could play a role in the Statehouse race, Dehner said. Presidential races tend to have higher turnout than other elections.

“This tends to support Democratic candidates in the state of Kansas, so turnout may play a role in swinging some districts from Republican to Democratic, but that remains to be seen.”

Allen, Dehner and Giroux agree Brownback’s unpopularity as governor contributed to the ousting of the conservative Republicans and the high number of Democrats running for office. Dehner said the governor’s unpopularity, combined with a swing in Statehouse politics, could affect future elections.

“I think there are political costs that are still being calculated,” Dehner said. “Perhaps people who were supporters of Gov. Brownback’s budget ideas may have avoided, or may yet avoid, losing their seat over it, but I think that the pendulum has not stopped swinging. I think the public displeasure at the current trajectory of Kansas budget issues is not a one-cycle issue.”

Giroux suggested a need to for more balance at the Statehouse.

“Right now what we lack in Kansas not only at the federal delegation, but also right here in our own state, we lack a balance,” he said. “Everything good in life requires a balance. Right now, we have no balance.”