Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Monday praised Gov. Sam Brownback as a “visionary” and “warrior” for conservative fiscal and social policies, as the Kansas Republican sought to energize his political base for a potentially tough re-election race.
Santorum was the headline speaker for rallies at an Olathe car dealership and a Wichita theater. The former Pennsylvania senator has long been a favorite among conservatives who oppose abortion rights and gay marriage. During his unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Santorum won Kansas’ caucuses handily.
His visit to Republican-leaning Kansas came with Brownback facing a strong challenge from presumed Democratic nominee Paul Davis, the state House minority leader. Davis argues that massive personal income tax cuts championed by Brownback aren’t stimulating the economy as promised and are wrecking the state’s finances, endangering funding for public schools. The governor also angered the state’s largest teachers’ union earlier this year by signing an education funding bill ending guaranteed tenure for public school teachers.
In Olathe, Santorum told more than 200 people who crammed into the dealership’s show room that Brownback should in theory have no problem winning re-election. But Santorum said liberals will keep attacking him over his views on social issues and because they don’t want Kansas to be a low-tax, small-government example for the nation.
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“Sam takes on the dragons. He is the warrior,” Santorum said, later adding, “He is a visionary in a state that can lead.”
Brownback told reporters afterward that voters will support his re-election once they’ve examined his record. He argued that the tax cuts — including an end to state income taxes for the owners of 191,000 businesses — are creating economic growth. The governor said he’s been a friend of education; the state boosted aid to poor schools by $129 million for 2014-15 to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate in a 2010 funding lawsuit.
But Brownback also appealed to GOP conservatives’ reverence for President Ronald Reagan and sought to tie Davis to Democratic President Barack Obama, who received only 38 percent of the vote in Kansas in 2012. Davis was an Obama delegate to Democrats’ national conventions in 2008 and 2012.
“I am a Reagan-style Republican,” Brownback said. “My opponent is an Obama-style Democrat, and you get a chance to choose this fall.”
Davis is the only Democrat running for governor, and spokesman Chris Pumpelly said he’s receiving support from thousands of Kansans wanting “bipartisan steps forward.”
“This campaign is about moderate, commonsense Kansas solutions to Kansas issues,” Pumpelly said.
During the Olathe rally, Brownback and the other speakers ignored his opponent in the Aug. 5 Republican primary, Wichita landscaping business owner Jennifer Winn, whose platform includes decriminalizing marijuana and promoting industrial hemp production.
“Governor Brownback bringing in Rick Santorum to help rally his base for the upcoming primary election is indicative of his need to focus on issues such as abortion and marriage, because he clearly does not want voters thinking about the economy,” Winn campaign manager Mike Shatz said in a statement.
In Olathe, a small group of teachers’ union and pro-education protesters with signs stood alongside the road running by the car dealership and later joined the crowd inside the showroom. But Brownback and Santorum received loud cheers, and the audience included Patricia Stoneking, President of the Kansas State Rifle Association, and Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.