Local Columnists

Steve Kraske: Something is happening in Kansas

The struggles of Sen. Pat Roberts (left) suggest that the single-note “nobody should spend 47 years in Washington” campaign of his primary opponent, Milton Wolf (right), has taken hold.
The struggles of Sen. Pat Roberts (left) suggest that the single-note “nobody should spend 47 years in Washington” campaign of his primary opponent, Milton Wolf (right), has taken hold. The Kansas City Star

It’s as if the Swiss Alps suddenly popped up outside Salina.

Or palm trees sprouted across the Flint Hills.

Something that dramatic is going on in Kansas politics.

A year ago, the state’s two leading Republicans looked to be locks for re-election. Today, Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback have real reason to worry.

In a new SurveyUSA poll this week, Roberts led Democrat Chad Taylor in a hypothetical November matchup 38 to 33 percent. Independent Greg Orman, an Olathe businessman, was at 14 percent.

This may be the closest a Democrat has been to a sitting Republican senator since Herbert Hoover bade farewell to the White House. Kansas hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1932.

The same survey showed Democrat Paul Davis’ lead against Gov. Sam Brownback expanding to 48 to 40 percent.

We’ve written at length about Brownback. Roberts’ struggles are fresher, and they suggest that the single-note “nobody should spend 47 years in Washington” campaign of his primary opponent, Milton Wolf, has taken hold.

The poll showed Roberts’ lead over Wolf has shrunk from 33 points to 20 in a month. But this week brought the news that the Kansas Board of Healing Arts is investigating Wolf’s connection to a sorry series of Facebook postings he made a few years ago in which the Leawood radiologist poked fun at shooting victims.

The probe resurrects the Facebook issue all over again, and that could slow Wolf.

Assuming the three-term senator survives the primary, he’s got money enough to swamp his foes as they split any anti-Roberts vote.

Taylor has the right occupation — he’s the Shawnee County prosecutor — but only $10,000 in the bank. He must convince national Democrats to place big money in a state where, as we’ve said, they haven’t won since the Lindbergh kidnapping.

Orman intrigues and he’s got money, but independents are a notoriously tough sell.

Still, 2014 shapes up as anything but conventional. This is the midterm election of a Democratic president’s second term. Republicans should be soaring.

Taken together, the Brownback-Roberts numbers hint at the same seismic shift that ushered Brownback and his conservatives into power four years ago — only in reverse. Kansas is, after all, a traditionally moderate state, and voters seem to be longing for the good ol’ days.

Big shifts are called “realignments” in political-speak. They can be as startling as, well, glaciers in July. Or coconuts in Abilene.

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to skraske@kcstar.com.

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