This could be one of those columns where I stomp and snort at Kansas Democrats for mucking it up again.
In theory, that’s exactly what the latest news would lead you to believe. Three decent candidates are now running for, or seriously eyeballing, a race for governor next year.
And you know what that could mean. A brutal primary. Nasty ads. Bitterness. A contest that pushes the eventual winner so far to the Bernie Sanders left that he can never slide back to win in a bright red state.
In short, it suggests that Democrats, who are in prime position to win the state’s premier political job after two terms of Gov. Sam Brownback, might be setting themselves up for another giant goose egg.
For the party, that would be devastating, especially because Democrats still need good candidates for Congress and other statewide offices.
But in the Trump era, we now know that politics is changing, and that change suggests that a crowded primary may not be so bad after all. There may be little the party can do about it anyway.
The three contenders are not well-known, but each can make a case that he deserves the nomination. Carl Brewer is a former two-term Wichita mayor. He’d make history as the state’s first black governor.
At 37, Josh Svaty is the young buck in this field with the most upside. He was elected state representative from a rural district smack in the middle of Kansas, a rarity for Democrats. He’s a former state agriculture secretary.
State Rep. Jim Ward also hails from Wichita and would split votes with Brewer. As House minority leader, he has proven himself to be a firecracker, challenging Brownback directly and often fiercely. He’s positioned to attract traditional Democrats.
The benefit of a primary? Even with its pitfalls, it would put Democrats on the map and inject excitement. A three-way scrimmage would be a real race, and the winner would emerge with that most precious commodity: name ID.
Republicans are probably headed for their own multi-candidate primary, so their winner could leave the August election in the same flat-broke position.
Party leaders might well prefer a race without a primary, but they don’t have much say these days. Parties used to be more flush, and the power of that cash gave leaders the ability to turn off the money spigot to force some contenders out of a race to stave off a primary.
Those days are long gone.
Party loyalty no longer runs deep. Candidates have become free agents. Sanders is a great example of that. An independent, the Vermont senator nearly ran down Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Something else is at play, too. In Brownback’s Kansas, the feeling that state government has become unhinged carries with it a predictable result: Multiple candidates from both parties are almost certain to run to save their state. They feel passionately, and no one is going to stop them.
Svaty may be one of those. “Kansas,” he said, “is in trouble.”
Back in 1998, Democratic chairman Tom Sawyer had to run for governor himself because no one else would challenge Republican Bill Graves, save for the unacceptable anti-gay crusader Fred Phelps.
Times have changed. Democrats now have a handful of good candidates. They might as well embrace it.