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More Troubles in Kansas for the Wizards of Oz

The November 2014 election campaign in Kansas wasn’t supposed to work like this.

Four years ago, Sam Brownback swept into the governor’s mansion and began to enact a sweeping agenda made up of every item on every conservative’s wish list — more abortion restrictions, fewer environmental restrictions, fewer regulations on business, lots and lots of lower taxes, etc. Kris Kobach (author of the infamous Arizona immigration laws that were overturned) was elected Secretary of State, and quickly got in on the fun as well, pushing Voter ID laws and other electoral mischief designed to keep the GOP in control of things. For a year and a half this went along just fine, but in early 2010, the  GOP Senate president and several other GOP members of the state legislature had the temerity to suggest that some of these things being proposed went too far, and voted with Democrats to block them.

Brownback and Kobach — the Wizards of Oz — were not amused.

Conservatives swiftly mounted primary challenges against these folks, as well as against a few others who voted *with* Brownback but apparently were not enthusiastic *enough* in voting with Brownback, and swept the field. The day after their primary victory, the Wizards of Oz cancelled the traditional “Unity Breakfast” where the party used to gather together, winners and losers, and put the primary in the rearview mirror as the general election campaign took off. GOP purity was the ultimate concern, and in November 2012, the purified GOP continued its dominance of Topeka and Kansas.

But a funny thing happened to the Wizards of Oz and the Kansas GOP. People started telling them “no.” First it was important people, like the Kansas Supreme Court, who told Brownback and his minions that they had to fund education at a higher level than they wanted to (and taking more than a few legal pot-shots at Brownback’s assertions of superiority over the Supreme Court when it comes to who has the final word in interpreting the laws of the state of Kansas). Now it’s the voters who are doing the same.

Brownback’s reelection numbers don’t look too good, and neither do the numbers of three term incumbent US Senator Pat Roberts, who scraped by a far right primary challenge in August and now is on the ropes against an independent, Greg Orman. Roberts’ best chance of victory was to have his opposition divided between Orman and Democrat Paul Taylor, but when Taylor decided to withdraw from the race, that strategy came to a crashing halt. Kobach leaped into the breach, trying to keep Taylor’s name on the ballot, but as they did with Brownback over school financing, the Kansas Supreme Court slapped Kobach down.

But even then, Kobach kept on trying. At first Kobach tried to say that when he told the Supreme Court that he faced a hard deadline of September 19th for mailing overseas and military ballots, he was just kidding and it wasn’t hard after all and Democrats must replace Taylor on the ballot within a week. (The Democrats laughed heartily.) Late yesterday, though, Kobach decided that lying to the Supreme Court wouldn’t look good, so he ordered the ballots mailed out without Taylor’s name. Roll Call says “Kobach’s decision concludes a Kansas Senate race saga,” but that verb is out of place. The father of one of Kobach’s regional field directors (who asserts that he is a registered Democrat) filed suit against the Democratic party of Kansas, asking the Supreme Court to order the Democrats to replace Taylor because having no Democrat to vote for infringes on his constitutional rights. (Yeah, that’s a hard argument to follow, but that’s what he’s claiming.) Kobach is trying to give this suit as much help as he can, but it’s a very very very long shot.

All of this is making things much worse politically for the Kansas GOP, not just for Kobach. Public Policy Polling described it like this in the write-up of their latest poll results in the Roberts/Orman race (taken just before the court’s ruling was announced) [emphasis added]:

Kansans do think Taylor should be allowed off the ballot- 63% think his name should be removed to only 21% who think it should have to remain on there. Even among Republicans there’s 52/30 support for allowing Taylor’s name to be removed. The way he’s handling this issue is hurting Secretary of State Kris Kobach- only 26% of voters approve of the way he’s dealt with it to 44% who disapprove. Kobach’s time in the spotlight on this may be hurting his own reelection chances- he leads Democratic opponent Jean Schodorf just 43/42, down from a 43/38 advantage a month ago.

The big story in this race continues to be [GOP Sen. Pat] Roberts’ unpopularity. Only 29% of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 46% who disapprove. . . .

Orman is proving to be a good candidate in his own right though. As he’s become better known he’s become better liked- his +20 net favorability is up 8 points from a month ago with 39% of voters rating him favorably to only 19% who have a negative opinion. He’s winning 30% of the Republican vote, and also has a 45/16 advantage with independent voters. . .

In the Kansas Governor’s race we find Paul Davis leading Sam Brownback 42/38 with Libertarian Keen Umbehr at 7%.  This is a rare contest where the Libertarian candidate is actually hurting the Democratic candidate by splitting the anti-Brownback vote. . . .

The big story in Kansas right now is the revolt of the moderate Republicans. We find that 15% of Kansans identify themselves as moderate Republicans. They’re supporting Davis over Brownback 56/28, and they’re supporting Orman over Roberts 54/29. That support for Democrats from centrist GOP voters is driving most of both Davis and Orman’s current leads.

The Wizards of Oz are in trouble, and the only strategy left for them is to make these races national. Scream about Obama and ultraliberal Democrats and Washington DC elites (oh, wait — Roberts might have trouble with that one), or about immigration and Agenda 21 and the United Nations and black helicopters. The last thing the Wizards of Oz want is for folks to talk about them.

And that’s the problem.

Remember that August 2012 GOP primary? Kobach’s opponent, Jean Schodorf, is one of the moderates who were crucified by the conservatives. From 2000 to 2012, she was a state senator from Wichita, but two years ago the GOP told her in no uncertain terms that she and her less-than-conservative views were not welcome in their party. Like Chris Koster in Missouri, she bolted from the GOP, loudly declaring that working from within for change was no longer an option. She is the worst nightmare for the Wizards of Oz, because she is (a) the embodiment of the GOP’s intolerance and extremism and (b) she has an increasingly large megaphone to point that mentality out to the state.

The Wizards of Oz can shout “Pay no attention to those men behind the curtain” as loudly as they want, but as Schodorf, Davis, and Orman will point out, that slogan does not have a record of success in Kansas.


photo h/t to David Shankbone and used under Creative Commons – Attribution 2.0 generic license. The folks in the picture were waving their sign back in 2010, but it certainly fits the electorate in 2014.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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