Kansas has unexpectedly become the center of American politics in 2014.
Most of this election is focusing on the Senate battlegrounds of Colorado, North Carolina, and New Hampshire because two years ago those states were presidential battleground. Kansas was not one of those states.
Kansas is without a doubt a very red state. Five times did Kansas' electoral votes not go a Republican. In 1892, they supported Populist candidate James B. Weaver. Four years later William Jennings Bryan won the state, but lost the election to William McKinley. Woodrow Wilson won Kansas in 1912 & 1916 as did Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 & 1936 in their respective presidential victories. The most recent Democrat to win Kansas in a presidential election was in President Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide victory over Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.
Even though President Obama has familiar connections to Kansas and named Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to head Health and Human Services, he lost the state twice. In 2008, Kansas's 6 electoral votes went for Senator McCain 56-42. Four years later Romney won the state 60-38. I do not expect the state to go for a Democratic presidential candidate anytime soon unless there is a huge monumental national political shift.
Though in state level politics there appears to be a very dramatic political shift.
Four years ago, in the Kansas Gubernatorial Election Sam Brownback won in an election that was very good if you had the letter R next to your name on the ballot or a very bad year if you had the letter D next to your name depending on your political perspective. Anyways, 2010 was a good year for Republicans and that was shown in Kansas where Brownback won the governor's election 63-32.
Brownback has been involved in Kansas politics for a long time. He won a seat in congress in 1994. In 1996, then-Senator Bob Dole resigned his senate seat so that he could run for president. The Kansas governor appointed Lt. Governor Sheila Frahm to fill that seat, but it also triggered a special election. In the Republican Primary for the 1996 special election, Brownback won the election and went on to win the special election that November to serve out the remainder of the term. Brownback was elected to his own term in the US Senate in 1998 and re-elected in 2004.
As payback for not appointing him to that senate seat in 1996, Brownback purged and punished the moderate Republicans.
The one thing that has triggered Kansas' political shift was this.
Brownback signed into law in 2012 tax cuts. Governor Brownback and those that supported this bill claimed that these tax cuts will create economic prosperity for the state. In the real world where everyone else lives in, tax cuts specifically those on the top wage earners do not create economic prosperity and contributes to the widening income inequality gap.
This is not from Occupy Wall Street or some lefty think tank. This is according to the Congressional Budget Office which said in 2012, "there is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution."
As we have seen many times over, cutting taxes on the wealthy shifts the burden on those in middle and lower classes and results in funding for necessary public services to be cut and in some cases eliminated. One those services that faced the chopping block was public schools in Kansas. Along with this tax cut in 2012, Brownback signed into law a school funding bill in April 2014. Critics of the law say that it cuts critical at-risk funding, creates more equity between rich and poor districts, and (surprise) creates a tax break for corporations that donate to private school scholarship funds for low-income and special-needs students which could cost the $10 million a year in lost revenue.
Two of the groups calling for Brownback to sign this bill were the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers led Americans For Prosperity. Representatives from those organizations were present at the bill signing.
In June 2014, Chris Hayes author of the book Twilight Of The Elites and host of the MSNBC program All In With Chris Hayes traveled to Kansas to document that the budget cuts are leading to schools in some Kansas rural communities being shutdown.
Messing with the schools is meaning you have gone too far for some Kansas voters and even for some Republicans. The Democratic nominee Paul Davis has secured the endorsement of more than 100 former and current Republican officials.
Davis will need their support and enough crossover votes to win this election. The latest Real Clear Politics polling average show Davis leading by an average of 2.8 points over Brownback. Talking Points Memo's Poll Tracker shows that Davis has been consistently leading since June.
Meanwhile another Kansas statewide race will have national implications into who will control the Senate this coming January when the 114th Congress convenes.
The last time a Republican did not win a Kansas US Senate race: 1930.
In that election Democrats gained 52 seats in the House, two seats short of a majority. During the long period between Election Day 1930 and the convening of congress in 1931, 19 representatives and representatives-elect DIED thus triggering special elections and leading to Democrats ending up in the majority
Looking at you Frank Underwood.
In the Senate, Democrats gained 8 seats and along with the Farmer-Labor Party caucusing one seat with them forced a tie in that chamber, but with President Hoover's Vice President Charles Curtis being a Republican that party still maintained the Senate.
And Curtis was a Senator from… KANSAS. When Hoover was elected president in 1928 and inaugurated in March 1929, Curtis' senate seat was filled and it triggered a special election in 1930 thus paving the way for a Democrat to win that seat in that election cycle.
See folks, it's all connected.
George McGill was elected to that Senate seat via a special election in 1930 and won his own seat outright in 1932 before being defeated in 1938. Since then Kansas has had two Republican Senators.
That trend might be broken this coming November.
Senator Pat Roberts was a shoe-in for re-election this November. Sure there was that minor detail of him not having a home address in Kansas. And he did defeat Milton Wolf, President Obama's cousin and a doctor who posted x-ray pictures of patients on Facebook, in the Republican primary 48-41.
In the typical two-person Republican vs. Democrat, Roberts wins by at least 8 points according to the Real Clear Politics average. There is a well funded Independent candidate who was polling well. In a three-way race, Roberts still wins in some polling, but only with a plurality of votes somewhere in the low 40s and in some cases the mid 30s.
What about the Republican vs. Independent two-person race?
The Independent, Greg Orman, wins. According to a PPP poll conducted in August it is by as much as 10.
If only Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the Kansas US Senate election…
On 3 September Taylor dropped out the race. This did not sit well with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. I bet he reads the same polls as I do and knows that if Taylor drops out Roberts will likely lose this coming November and also increase the likely hood of Democrats keeping their majority in the US Senate.
Kobach sued to keep Taylor on the ballot. It failed. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Taylor can't be forced to run for an office that he has expressed no desire to run in and ordered the Secretary of State to take Taylor's name off the ballot.
Kobach is claiming that he doesn't have to print out ballots until this coming Friday.
Doing so would violate the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act which is a federal law that requires ballots be sent to military voters no later than 45 days prior to an election.
Speaking of that, Kobach is sending out notices with ballots to overseas voters. This is a part of long list of voter suppression schemes to combat the non-existent problem of voter fraud that the Kansas Secretary of State is participating in.
And Kris Kobach might lose his re-election too.
Orman ran in the Democratic Primary for Senate in 2008 but dropped out. Orman has the funding to compete in an election like this. Orman has been registered as both a Democrat and a Republican at various times in his life but has been unaffiliated since 2010. According to his political contributions he donated money to Harry Reid's senate campaign, and Obama and Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, but donated to Republicans Scott Brown and Todd Akin in 2010.
Orman has not stated which party he will caucus with based on his past affiliations, but according to Nate Silver's Five Thirty Eight Orman has a 75% chance of caucusing with the Democrats should he win.
The Orman candidacy has raised a lot of red flags for the Roberts' camp that the campaign has brought in experienced campaigners from Washington along with Senator McCain, former Kansas Senator Bob Dole, and other big Republican names to campaign for Roberts.
I wonder with all this attention on their senate and gubernatorial races that voters have said this phrase:
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."