Local Columnists

July 21, 2014

Dave Helling: Primary campaigns lay down a weary tune

With two weeks to go until the Aug. 4 primaries in Missouri and Kansas, the campaigns seem unusually listless this season. Sluggish campaigns lead to low turnout, and it’s going to be hard to awaken voters in the next two weeks.

“Time,” Bob Dylan once wrote, “is a jet plane. It moves too fast.”

Of course, he also wrote a song called “Time Passes Slowly.” Consistency has never been his strongest trait.

Tuesday morning, though, local politicians and campaigners probably will sense the truth in both lyrics. After dragging for months, the primary is now just two weeks away.

That deadline does not seem to have quickened the pace of local campaigns, however. They seem slightly listless, as if the voters’ verdict is still months in the future.

Missouri’s three-fourths cent sales tax for transportation improvements has probably drawn the most interest. It would be the largest tax hike in state history.

But where’s the campaign? Normally, two weeks out, you would see tax supporters holding news conferences at crumbling bridges. Ads would suck up TV time. Letters to the editor would extol (or denounce) the proposal.

Have you seen much of this? I haven’t, either.

In Kansas, the Republican Senate primary between incumbent Pat Roberts and Milton Wolf has provided heat but little light. No televised debates. Little outside ad spending. A handful of yard signs.

Last week, the Kansas governor’s race dominated the news, even though the Sam Brownback-Paul Davis matchup occurs in November.

Part of this is natural. August primaries, particularly in nonpresidential years, are typically laid-back affairs.

But this cycle seems quiet, even by those lowered standards. About this time two years ago, we heard the first whispers of a Todd Akin surge in the Missouri GOP Senate primary. Sarah Steelman brought in Sarah Palin and John Brunner purchased every TV commercial he could get his hands on.

This year? Wolf is on a bus tour. Roberts had a spot this weekend in the Ellinwood After Harvest Parade.

Sluggish campaigns lead to low turnout. That would usually help Roberts, a known commodity, but it might help Wolf this August. His supporters seem more committed to their candidate.

Low turnout is even a bigger question mark for the transportation tax. In most years, “no” voters are more motivated and a small turnout would endanger the tax. But it’s also possible the quiet campaign has helped tamp down anti-tax fervor in Missouri.

In either case, it’s probably too late for consultants to reconfigure their campaigns. It’s going to be hard to awaken voters in the next two weeks after putting many of them to sleep over the last six months.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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