LAWRENCE – The city of Lawrence is getting a lot of mentions in the governor’s race. And it’s always coupled with another “L” word – liberal.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign has repeatedly called his Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, “a liberal lawyer from Lawrence.”
“Kansans have a choice between my opponent, a liberal from Lawrence, a two-time Obama delegate, who believes the answer to all problems lies with the government solution, or myself, a Reagan Republican who believes in lower taxes and more freedoms,” Brownback said to cheering supporters on election night, when he accepted the Republican nomination for governor. “The path forward for Kansas is clear.”
The Davis campaign has pointed out that Brownback is also a lawyer and attended law school in Lawrence at the University of Kansas.
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Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer also mentioned the city in a speech that night, calling Davis a “liberal Lawrence lawyer,” The Wichita Eagle reported.
A new ad, paid for by the Republican Governors Association, shows a photo-shopped image of Davis and Obama with the label “LIBERAL LAWRENCE LEGISLATOR” in bold letters.
Brownback’s campaign says the label is not meant as a slight against the city, home to the University of Kansas and a Democratic stronghold.
Davis addressed the mentions in an email.
“This line of attack is the perfect example of Sam Brownback’s out-of-step values, and D.C.-style politics,” Davis said. “What I can tell you, though, is that when I’m elected governor I'll serve and respect every community, town and city in this great state.”
Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan questioned the Brownback campaign’s strategy on Twitter this month, tweeting, “he is aware there are voters in Lawrence right?”
Chapman Rackaway, a professor at Fort Hays State University, said the strategy of repeatedly telling voters Davis is in Lawrence, the blue dot in a sea of red on election maps, could be effective in western Kansas.
“Its reputation as a liberal bastion in the state and because it’s over on the east side, both of those elements will play here in western Kansas,” Rackaway said.
Brownback’s campaign spokesman, John Milburn, a Lawrence resident, said the frequent references to Lawrence weren’t meant to be pejorative.
It’s just because Lawrence begins with L, he said.
“He’s not going after the city. He could be a liberal from Pratt. He could be a liberal from Goodland. It just has the alliteration. The issue is him being a liberal, not the city of Lawrence,” Milburn said.
Milburn denied that referencing Lawrence was a way to rev up the conservative base, which might have a negative opinion about the city, known for progressive policies such as recognizing domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
Milburn said it was a just way to inform voters about Davis.
“I’m a conservative from Lawrence, so I could be described that way,” Milburn added.
Many of Brownback’s top staffers live in Lawrence and commute to Topeka, including Landon Fulmer, the governor’s chief of staff, and Eileen Hawley, his director of communications.
Lawrence Mayor Mike Amyx said the community is proud to be home to a gubernatorial candidate.
“We’re proud of everything that we do and the diversity of our community is something we’re extremely proud of. We’re very proud Kansans,” he said.
“I can’t understand what the concern is. But you know, it’s a great place to live and a great place to be mayor.”