Concerns about the governor’s tax-slashing economic program are well-known, and Roberts’ residency has been a campaign question for most of the year. But it’s likely that partisan voters made up their minds about both issues long ago. Their views won’t change before Election Day.
Undecided voters are another matter. They seem open to considering alternatives to the two Republicans, but they need to be convinced that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis and independent Senate candidate Greg Orman are credible candidates first.
Both challengers took important and interesting steps toward those voters at Saturday’s State Fair debates.
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Davis took a more traditional approach. He hammered Brownback on taxes, the environment and school spending. His goal was to present a believable alternative to the incumbent, and on that score he succeeded. One might disagree with his position on the issues, but almost every undecided voter watching or listening would have concluded Davis is at least plausible as governor.
Outsiders called the Brownback-Davis debate a tie. In any race involving an incumbent, a tie goes to the lesser-known challenger.
Orman’s Senate debate was trickier. Some pundits already have suggested thathe was too laid back, too me-too, in his dust-up with Roberts.
There’s some truth to that. Voters eventually will require the candidate to state his views a tad more firmly than he did Saturday.
Orman is playing a different game. Had he responded to Roberts’ partisan hectoring in kind, he would have become the de-facto Democrat in the race, negating the central idea of his candidacy. Orman has to stay above the fray or his post-partisan argument crumbles.
Orman appeared to understand this Saturday. Roberts seemed befuddled. And let’s pause for some sympathy for his dilemma: Roberts has never had a tough race in his life. Now he’s getting nail-biters back-to-back, and neither challenge involves a Democrat.
This isn’t Pat Roberts’ world. He has run in a Kansas where a Republican could wave the Rush Limbaugh shirt every six years, clobber some no-name Democrat and return happily to Washington. Now, in what is almost certainly his last campaign, he’s swamped by tea-party fury on one side and anti-incumbent, anti-Washington disgust on the other.
Roberts and Brownback remain slight favorites in Kansas. Emphasis on the “slight.”