We're now a week out, and many Kansas statehouse races are flying under radar. House contests, where outside independent expenditures are rare, are particularly easy to overlook. Here are some impressions of some races you should watch, listed in their order of intrigue (of course, a subjective view).
1. House District 24 (Overland Park, Mission, Merriam)
Word on the street is that Republicans are afraid of 27-year-old Democrat Emily Perry, fresh out of law school and making her first bid for public office.
For a newbie, she's demonstrated an uncanny ability to raise money, drawing big checks from union contributors. She's poised to spend more than $40,000 to win the only House seat held by Democrats in Johnson County. The fear is that if Perry wins today, she'll have to be reckoned with for a bigger office tomorrow (not unlike what happens when Anakin Skywalker grows up).
The conservative Kansas Chamber of Commerce, with its Koch industries funding, has sided with Republican Army Reservist Chris Waldschmidt. The chamber has sent out mailers attacking Perry on Waldschmidt's behalf. Meanwhile, the Democrats are tying Waldschmidt to Brownback's policies, saying the two go to together like cookies and milk. Frankly, not sure that's a bad combination, although I'm more of a wings and beer guy.
2. Senate District 5 (Kansas City, Leavenworth, Lansing, Bonner Springs)
In a rematch from 2008, Democratic state Sen. Kelly Kultala is in a pitched battle against conservative Republican Steve Fitzgerald. Only two years ago, Kultala was on a ticket with Sen. Tom Holland that lost to Gov. Sam Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer.
Now, she's in a fight for her political life. Republicans hope that redistricting might help Fitzgerald, who lost to Kultala by about 1,300 votes in 2008. They believe Fitzgerald shed some precincts that hurt him in 2008 in favor of some that could help him this time around. Indeed, the newly drawn 5th District is more balanced between Democrats and Republicans than the old district. Democrats had a 6 percentage point edge in registration under the old district. It's now about even at 34 percent each with unaffiliated voters making up the difference.
However, Fitzgerald has made comments about God and religion and a joke about domestic violence that Democrats believe should sink him. He recently created a flap when he told a group of Democrats and Catholics they couldn't be good Christians and also support their party's platform on same-sex marriage. Then on Monday, The Pitch reported this joke about domestic violence Click here to see the story.
3. Senate District 21 (Lenexa, Overland Park)
Conservative Republican Greg Smith has yet to win a race in a landslide. He slid past Democrat Lisa Benlon by about 100 votes to win a House seat in 2010. He beat moderate Republican Joe Beveridge by about 300 votes in the GOP primary. Now, he's going up against Democrat Juanita Roy in the general election.
The district is new to Johnson County. It was created because of Johnson County's population growth. Smith is much better financed in the general election than he was in the primary. But Roy is hardly cash poor, not to mention she has the help of her husband, former lawmaker and longtime Democratic strategist Bill Roy Jr.
The question here will be how well Smith can appeal to moderate voters even as he fends off questions about votes on schools that effectively cut state base aid per pupil. His contempt for teacher unions hasn't hurt him so far. He has a reputation as a hard campaigner, which should serve him well.
4. Senate District 6 (Kansas City, Merriam, Overland Park, Edwardsville)
Clearly, the Democrats have great disdain for Democrat-turned-Republican Chris Steineger -- evidenced by a recent attempt to suggest that he was under some kind of state investigation. It will be more interesting to see how the former Democrat's ideas of selling off the University of Kansas Hospital, privatizing universities and consolidating counties will play out in a district that is 46 percent Democrat against former Unified Government Commissioner Pat Pettey.
5. House District 17 (Shawnee, Lenexa, Lake Quivira)
In terms of the resume, independent Larry Meeker of Lake Quivira, has an advantage as the retired vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
His opponent, Republican state Rep. Brett Hildabrand, left his job so he could stay in the Legislature and then moved into the district because it was more politically compatible. Yet, Hildabrand is a Republican and that's going to get lots of votes.
But Meeker has already done a lot of ground work since he had to round up 1,300 signatures to get on the ballot after his filing papers were apparently lost at the secretary of state's office.
Meeker, a former mayor of Lake Quivira who originally filed as a Democrat, also raised about $4,000 more than Hildabrand in the reporting period ending Oct. 25. He also has more than double the money that Hildabrand has in the bank.
Hildabrand is not helped by the fact that he's also running against Libertarian Michael Kerner who's almost his mirror image. In a close race, the Libertarian could hurt Hildabrand.
6. House District 18 (Shawnee)
Will this be a comeback for Democrat Milack Talia, who lost his bid for re-election two years ago? He has to go through Republican state Rep. John Rubin, a conservative Republican with a sharp intellect who shows himself to be tough competitor.
There was some worry that Rubin may have hurt himself by getting involved in some city politics that might backlash against him. But in an ironic twist, he was one Republican who could dodge accusations of voting for what's been portrayed as the biggest school cut in history. He actually voted against that budget albeit because it spent too much money.
7. District 22 (Overland Park)
Democrats are looking for a victory over Republicans in the district represented by Republican Greg Smith.
The Republican, Marla Brems, is not only overmatched in fundraising against Democrat Nancy Lusk, but she and her husband, Kirk, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2010. Court records show the couple had about $66,000 in secured mortgage debt and $55,076 in unsecured debt including credit card bills, medical expenses and more. The bankruptcy report said that the family’s monthly income was also limited when her husband was charged with felony drunken driving and suspended without pay from his job as a driver.
Lusk started the general election campaign with $10,435 to $470 for Brems. As of Oct. 25, Lusk had raised $9,864 for the reporting period ending Oct. 25. Brems had raised $6,050.
8. District 25 (Fairway, Mission, Mission Hills, Prairie Village, Roeland Park, Westwood)
Good luck to voters in this northeast Johnson County district. Melissa Rooker of Fairway is the Republican. Megan England of Roeland is the Dem.
But both want increased funding for Johnson County public schools, and both are concerned that tax cuts could hurt schools even more. Not your traditonal clear choice between Democrat and Republican.
In the reporting period ending Oct. 25, England raised $12,765, getting some support from unions for roofers, asbestos workers and the UAW. Rooker, meanwhile, raised $10,485, including contributions from the KNEA, Hallmark, Union Pacific and the Kansas Contractors Association.
Rooker used to work for Clint Eastwood. Maybe she could get Eastwood and his chair to make an appearance in Johnson County before next Tuesday. Just a thought.