In March 2017, John Gibson kept saying it over and over again.
“There’s no place I’d rather be as a Democrat right now,” the chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party said of his home state.
A statement like that was more than just a little looney. It was cool to be a Kansas Democrat in 2017? Yeah, and Beyoncé was dying to buy a condo in McPherson.
But this week, in the wake of Tuesday’s primaries that saw Democratic wins by Laura Kelly for governor and Sharice Davids for a congressional seat, John Gibson suddenly has a cool summertime breeze at his back. Prescient he is.
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Momentum and Kansas Democrats haven’t linked arms in a long time. He and Kelly and Davids and others just need to make sure they don’t blow it.
I once called the job of Kansas Democratic Party chairman the worst in the state. But no more.
So many things feel right for Democrats. Kelly didn’t just win Tuesday night’s primary, she dominated a race that should’ve been closer. That makes the task of engineering party unity so much easier.
Republicans, meantime, remain locked up in a toss-up between Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Both already are campaigning as if they have won. Confusion and bad blood simmer just beneath the surface. Any recounts could tie up Republicans for weeks in what already is a short run-up to November’s Election Day.
“Unmitigated good news,” Gibson said.
In the 3rd District, Davids is exactly the type of candidate who could knock off a vulnerable Republican like U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder in a blue-wave year. She’ll need help and boatloads of money that Gibson can generate.
In the 2nd District around Topeka, Democrat Paul Davis has emerged as the early favorite. In the 4th District around Wichita, Democrat James Thompson is said to have better than a spittin’ chance.
Following the Brownback years and in the midst of the Trump era, Democrats can go on the offensive in a bright-red state, and what a beautiful thing that is for a party too often scared of its own shadow.
The other benefit of 2018? Democrats walk away with the luxury of a deep bench for races to come, thanks to an intriguing collection of losing primary candidates. Democrats already are talking about governor’s race also-ran Josh Svaty as a 2020 U.S. Senate candidate. The also-rans in the 3rd District race would make for strong state Senate contenders.
Gibson navigated intra-party arguments. He raised money. He advised candidates. He adroitly convinced some to try different races than the ones they originally eyed to avoid a primary fight. He helped organize nearly 80 of the state’s 105 counties. Democrats haven’t seen a number like that in eons.
Now, he has to do much of that all over again and add a solid coordinated campaign to the mix. He must convince Democrats to avoid overreaching.
Even then, winning will be tough.
But look at what’s possible. The governor’s office is within reach. So are statewide offices, at least two congressional seats and more slots in the state House of Representatives. Gibson could emerge as the most successful Kansas Democratic chair in a generation.
He and his fellow Democrats just can’t blow it.