Kansas governor, GOP activists upbeat about re-election

01/25/2014 4:09 PM

01/25/2014 4:09 PM

Gov. Sam Brownback and other Kansas Republicans sounded mostly upbeat Saturday notes about his re-election, confident that they'll be able to tie his presumed Democratic challenger to President Barack Obama during the campaign in their GOP-leaning state.

Hundreds of Republican activists, party leaders and elected officials gathered in Wichita for the state Republican Party’s annual convention, held each year close to the anniversary of the state’s Jan. 29, 1861, admission to the union. The crowd celebrated the GOP’s dominance in Kansas politics and heard exhortations to get involved in campaigns at all levels of politics.

Brownback is facing a spirited challenge from Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence. The Democrat raised $1 million in cash contributions in less than five months last year, while Brownback’s campaign raised $1.1 million the entire year, aside from a $500,000 loan from his running mate, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a reconstructive plastic surgeon.

Colyer’s loan raised eyebrows in political circles and had Democrats and even a few Republicans questioning whether it signaled nervousness about Davis’ ability to raise money. But Republicans were bullish Saturday, arguing that Davis’ stock will fall as voters come to identify him with the Democratic president and his signature health care overhaul.

Brownback made it clear that he'll run as much against Obama as against Davis. That tactic worked well for the Kansas GOP in 2010, when Republicans swept all statewide and congressional races on the ballot for the first time since 1964. Republicans have noted repeatedly that Davis was an Obama delegate at the Democratic National Conventions in 2008 and 2012.

“If you give the people of Kansas a choice between, kind of, pragmatic conservatism and the Obama agenda, they will pick the pragmatic conservatism,” Brownback told a meeting of Republicans from the 2nd Congressional District of eastern Kansas.

Davis is attempting to win over GOP moderates and unaffiliated voters by making public school funding his biggest issue. He’s attacked Brownback for pursuing massive personal income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013, arguing that the reductions are reckless, favor the wealthy and will starve schools and government programs of needed resources.

Democrats said Saturday that by attempting to tie Davis to Obama, Brownback is attempting to divert voters’ attention from policies that are hurting schools and the vulnerable while failing to fulfill Brownback’s promises to stimulate economic growth.

“Kansans won’t be surprised to see Sam Brownback attempt to make his re-election a referendum on what’s going on in Washington, D.C., because his own experiment on the people of Kansas is failing,” Davis spokeswoman Haley Pollock said in an email statement. “The challenge for the governor is that Kansans are smart.”

But David Kensinger, a close Brownback ally who managed his 2010 campaign and is serving as an informal spokesman for the governor’s re-election bid, used a short workshop presentation to tick through the advantages the GOP enjoys, including a sizeable one in voter registrations that’s grown over time.

He dismissed talk that Colyer’s loan demonstrates nervousness.

“What can you control? You can control your effort,” Kensinger said after his presentation. “If you can do more, you do more. That’s true regardless of where you are.”

Not all the Republicans attending the convention were quite as optimistic. Norbert Marek, of Westmoreland, the Wabaunsee County attorney, acknowledged being “one of those glass half-empty guys” and said he worries about Brownback facing “constant negative press” because of his conservative policies.

“Could Sam Brownback lose? Absolutely, he could,” Marek said.

Mary Alice Lair, a former GOP National Committee member from Piqua, said she expects Brownback to have a tough re-election race because he’s made decisions on tax and budget policy that are beneficial but unpopular in some quarters. However, she said she’s confident that Brownback will win.

And, however optimistic they were, Republicans still heard plenty of calls to work hard.

“You can’t stay home – you can’t,” Heath Kohl, state GOP’s political director, said during another workshop.

Kansas Republican Party: http://www.ksgop.org ; Kansas Democratic Party: http://www.ksdp.org .

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