In 2002, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius won the race for Kansas governor going away.
She defeated Republican Tim Shallenburger by 53-45 percent.
But in Johnson County, the most populous in Kansas, Shallenburger beat her 52-46 percent.
Yes, that’s right. Sebelius got smoked in Johnson County, only to easily win statewide.
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Fast forward to 2014. The question: What percentage does independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman need in Johnson County to ensure a win statewide?
Experts say it’s a far higher percentage than Sebelius received.
Orman hails from Olathe, so he’s counting on a big number out of Johnson County come Tuesday night.
And because Republican Pat Roberts represented western Kansas for so many years as a House member, Orman knows Roberts will perform well out west.
So Orman has to win big in the east.
The 2002 race was way different. Sebelius’ father-in-law was a former western Kansas congressman. That was a big plus for the Democrat. Shallenburger, meantime, hailed from far southeastern Kansas. He had no special ties to the west.
Interviews with experts in recent days resulted in these conclusions:
1) Orman must win Johnson County. A loss means Roberts has almost certainly won the race.
2) That said, how much does Orman need to win by? Those estimates vary. Some forecasters say Orman must win by 10 points and be close to the mid-50s in JoCo.
3) If Roberts gets more than 45 percent in JoCo, his chances of a statewide win skyrocket. If he’s under 40, he’s sunk. A finish between 40 and 45 percent lives the race in limbo.
Remember, a Libertarian is also running, and he’ll pick up a few points in JoCo as he will in virtually every county.
The dynamic here is similar to what happened in the 2010 GOP primary for the U.S. Senate between Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt.
Tihart won JoCo by 49-45 percent, but wound up losing statewide because of Moran’s strength in western Kansas. Like Roberts, Moran represented the big 1st District in the House.
Election results in Johnson County tend to be announced in one big dump as opposed to a trickling in of results. The results should say a lot about the final outcome.
BTW, some of these same dynamics apply to the governor’s race between Sam Brownback and Paul Davis.