Kansas Republicans Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback Lifted by Rising Tide
Democrats and independents had a good chance to push out two unpopular incumbents, but it was not to be—and Tuesday’s result is a big long-term win for the Kansas GOP.
Tuesday was such a major Republican wave that the GOP even won Kansas.
That such a victory would be seen as a surprise would have seemed counterintuitive not so long ago. After all, Kansas is as rock-ribbed a Republican state as they come. No Kansas Democrat has been elected to the Senate since 1932, and the state was so solidly conservative that it inspired the liberal cri de coeur “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” to express frustration that the Midwestern state was so staunchly Republican. But that wasn’t supposed to be the case in 2014. With the economic and tax policies of first-term Republican Gov. Sam Brownback deeply unpopular and Tea Party resentment at longtime incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts entrenched, Kansas somehow seemed in play. It turns out that a rising tide lifts all boats, including the rather leaky vessel carrying Kansas Republicans.
Roberts had been in an unorthodox race against independent Greg Orman, who had become the de facto Democratic nominee after the party’s original choice dropped out to make it easier for the third-party candidate. Instead, Roberts tied Orman to President Obama and Harry Reid despite protestations that Orman was willing to caucus with either party. The result was that the three-term incumbent pulled off a solid 10-point win.
The governor’s race was far closer. Brownback had become unpopular in the state, which has elected Democrats to state office, and Democratic operatives were feeling relatively confident that their nominee, state Rep. Paul Davis, would pull off a win in Kansas. However, while Kansas voters were feeling deeply discontented with Brownback’s conservative agenda, he seemed the lesser of two evils compared to the candidate from the party of Obama. The result was a narrow, albeit decisive, loss for Davis.
Davis’s and Orman’s losses also mark a big long-term win for the Kansas GOP. In a state where Republicans had been divided between moderate and conservative factions, Democrats had an opportunity to make major inroads in the state by knocking off Roberts and Brownback. Kansas was never going to become a liberal mecca, but Democrats would have had two statewide incumbents and the opportunity to build an organization in the Sunflower State. But that was not to be, and Kansas will continue as a Republican bastion for the foreseeable future.