The upcoming August 7th Republican Primary is becoming the “the mother of all” primary elections.
If you are fortunate enough to live in one of the state Senate districts where a so-called moderate Republican is running, the radio ads have already started and you have received at least one full-color postcard mailer from one of Governor Brownback’s supporting cast – Americans for Prosperity (AFP) or Kansas Chamber of Commerce – accusing that moderate of being a supporter of President Obama, of being against prosperity, and/or in favor of socialism. The AFP and Chamber have a penchant for hyperbole.
For his part, Governor Brownback formally jumped into the fray by issuing endorsements for a handful of AFP and Chamber backed candidates. The Governor decided to reverse his earlier decision to remain out of the GOP primary. He justified his U-turn by saying that he needed to respond to “the alliance in the state Senate between Democrats and some [read: moderate] Republicans.”
Not to be outdone, the so-called moderates, aka “traditional Republicans” have mobilized an impressive list of former Republican state and local leaders, headlined by Governor Bill Graves (1995-2002). Graves is barnstorming state senate districts, campaigning and raising money for traditional Republicans. Unfortunately for the traditional Republicans, the key word here is “former.” There are no GOP major officeholders who are willing to endorse them.
This is not case for their right-of-right challengers. Not only has the Governor endorsed them, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, the quintessential R-Squares, are also giving them endorsements.
Even the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) is wading into the GOP primary. The teachers union encouraged its Democratic members to reregister as Republicans by the July 17th registration deadline. The KNEA is encouraging all of its members to participate in the GOP primary to support the so-called moderates. The Kansas Democrats are not protesting.
If you are keeping score at home, here are some critical numbers you may want to keep in mind for the primary in August and general election in November.
Eighteen (18) is the first number. This represents the number of currently sitting GOP state Senators who were consistent Brownback supporters in the last legislative session. Thirteen is the second number. This is the number of sitting GOP state Senators who were consistent supporters of state Senate President Steve Morris, the main nemesis of Governor Brownback.
These two numbers mean that even if all of the targeted moderates win their primary battles against Brownback endorsed challengers, an unlikely outcome, the moderate faction is likely to lose its control of the GOP state Senate caucus. The new leader of the GOP state senate caucus is likely to be Brownback endorsed state Senator.
Twenty-one is the next number. This is the number of votes necessary to form a majority in the state Senate.
Page 2 of 2 - If 21 “Brownbacked” Republican Senators win seats, the state Senate will become a rubberstamp for the Governor’s conservative agenda. If, on the other hand, there are a total of 21 moderate Republicans and Democrats left standing after the November elections, the Governor is correct, a moderate bipartisan alliance could form in the state Senate to stop elements of the Governor’s more conservative policy prescriptions.
However, why would the moderates and Democrats stop there? In what would be the worst-case scenario for Governor Brownback, these 21 state Senators could form a bipartisan alliance to elect the new President and Vice President and to control the leadership positions of the state Senate. Granted, this would be unprecedented in Kansas history. But, when the sitting Republican Governor and his allies take the highly unusual step of actively recruiting opponents to so many members of their own party and then raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to purge them; historical precedents are more likely to be ignored.
Given the disparity between the campaign coffers of the moderate Republicans versus the Governor, AFP, and Kansas Chamber backed challengers; some might say the moderates have brought knives to a gunfight. That may be. However, if enough of these moderate Republicans survive, they may get the chance to repay the Governor for working so actively to replace them.
Joseph A. Aistrup is a professor of Political Science at Kansas State University.