Joco Opinion

Steve Rose — A handicapper’s guide to the 2014 elections

Hold onto your seats. The sparks are about to fly next August and November, when several races will grab the attention of voters.

Here are the major races and the odds I give them:

The way I figure it, tea party candidate Milton Wolf, a local physician, has about a one-in-six chance of unseating U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in the August primary. Since Wolf attacked Roberts for voting for the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary, Roberts has called for her resignation. Furthermore, Roberts pandered to the tea party when he voted no on the Senate bill to keep the government from defaulting. Wolf still has a compelling pitch: Time to make a change. Roberts, 77, has spent four decades in Congress. Roberts has an extraordinarily conservative voting record. Only his age and longevity make him even a little vulnerable.

Paul Davis has a one-in-two chance of beating Sam Brownback this November, as Brownback seeks his second term of governor. Davis, the Democratic minority leader of the state House, is a sharp contrast to a governor who has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, with huge cuts in expenses to follow. Brownback’s poll numbers are not good right now, but they will improve when he has a real candidate to be compared to. We’ve written about Davis before, but we will repeat: To win, Davis has to draw a huge vote from independents, as well as moderate Republicans willing to switch their party votes. His odds are not great, but neither are they out of the realm of possibility. The moderate Republicans I know are disgusted with Brownback.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach has a field of Democrat candidates, which may not be complete yet, to try to oust him in November. The frontrunner is moderate Republican turned Democrat Jean Schodorf of Wichita, a former state senator who lost her seat in the tidal wave that swept away almost all the moderate Republicans in the state Senate in the last Republican primary election. Saline County Clerk Don Merriman apparently will be throwing his hat into the ring.

The candidates are attacking Kobach on two fronts. One, it seems he spends more time representing states and cities in anti-immigration efforts than he does as secretary of state. Two, Kobach’s proof of citizenship laws have resulted in 17,000 Kansans who are in limbo. They are waiting for the right to vote, because they have registered but have not yet provided proof of citizenship. The charge is Kobach is attempting to suppress the votes of the poor and minorities.

I would give whoever wins the Democratic primary a one-in-three chance of unseating Kobach. Remember former Kansas Attorney Gen. Phill Kline, who overreached in his anti-abortion tactics and who lost in an upset by Democrat Paul Morrison? Cocky Kobach may be in for a similar surprise.

Johnson Countians will be in a for real treat with two good candidates running for county chair. If only two candidates file, the final race will be in November. If three file, however, there will be an August primary to pick the top two in this nonpartisan race.

Ed Eilert, who is seeking his second term, is being challenged by fellow county Commissioner Ed Peterson.

Eilert, who was Overland Park mayor for more than two decades, is something of an icon in the county, but that doesn’t mean Peterson does not have a chance. I would give Peterson a one-in-four chance of unseating Eilert.

Peterson’s challenge is that he is running on a platform to better provide services that have been cut and to invest more in infrastructure and parks, which may require increased taxes.

It’s not a crazy idea. Johnson County’s economic stagnation over several years has meant noticeable cuts in services and a reduction of several hundred county employees, in order to hold the line on taxes.

It will be extremely difficult to sell the idea of higher taxes in the current anti-tax atmosphere, but Peterson, who is a longtime commissioner and former mayor of Fairway, has a message worth consideration.