Wednesday, August 06, 2014

What Kansas Republicans Should Learn From Yesterday

[A quick follow-up from yesterday:]

Primary contests don't necessarily tell you much about general elections. The number of people who show up to vote is so small, and so selective--generally, the sort of people who bother to vote in political primaries, particularly closed primaries like we have here in Kansas, are much more committed to their representative parties and far more motivated by specific candidates and issues than is the case with most citizens--that it's rare that a primary election allows for predictions over how the main contest in three or four or five months will go.

That said, the primary election which was held yesterday in Kansas does tell us a few things--things that, by and large, are likely to be of far greater concern to Republicans than Democrats.

The main message, looking at the vote counts for victorious Republican incumbents such as Governor Sam Brownback (63% to 37% over his GOP rival, Jennifer Winn), Secretary of State Kris Kobach (65% to 35% over Scott Morgan), Congressman Tim Huelskamp in the 1st congressional district (55% to 45% over Alan LaPolice), and Senator Pat Roberts (barely clearly 48% of all votes cast), is pretty clear: their support amongst their own party is soft, at best. Obviously primary elections--again, being small and focused--can easily be swayed by particular issues and candidates. But still, when you are seeing more than a third (and sometimes fully half!) of all the registered Republicans who bother to cast a vote in a primary election on a Tuesday in August choosing someone other than the official flag-bearer for their party, you've got to be worried. A good many of those registered Republicans who went with the challengers down to defeat will, of course, come around and support the incumbent in November; many others are single-issue cranks who were just trying to send a protest, and don't consider themselves Republicans anyway. But that still leaves literally thousands of other self-identified Republican voters that quite possibly either will not vote in November or may even take seriously the Democratic challenger against any of the above. And in a race where incumbents like Brownback, Kobach, and Huelskamp already face large negatives with many voters, that has to be very worrying.

I didn't mention the Pompeo-Tiahrt match-up for the Republican nomination for the 4th district's congressional seat, even though the vote results there were similar to the above (Mike Pompeo, the incumbent, with 63%, over Todd Tiahrt with 37%), because that was an odd race, one that essentially was pitting two incumbents against each other, and both counting mostly on personal impressions to carry the race. Pompeo will almost certainly not suffer any consequences in November from the legacy of his sometimes nasty primary win. Similarly, though it is clear to everyone looking at the returns that Roberts is viewed by a large percentage of Kansas Republicans as a basically an unimpressive stuffed shirt, a career politician who can barely manage to remember what address his mail is being sent to, he also almost certainly doesn't need to worry; Kansas's strong Republican tilt will guarantee that, so long as he denounces "Obamacare" frequently enough, no Democratic challenger is likely to hurt him. And the same goes with Huelskamp; as many doubts apparently exist amongst some of the Republican party primary electorate here in Kansas about these individuals' competence, national narratives about fighting Washington DC will no doubt carry them through with mainstream Republican voters.

But what about the state races? There, of course, Brownback and Kobach, as well as all the rest of the state GOP, will play the anti-Obama card, and that will likely be more than sufficient to remind the majority of Kansas Republicans of the reason for their party identification. But when you look at the above results, you can't help but suspect, I think, that the state Republican party here in Kansas has not done a particularly expert job of seamlessly fitting the agenda of the Republican majority in Topeka in with the national conservative, anti-government, quasi-libertarian, family-values line. Surely many of the GOP voters who chose not to support current state Republican incumbents did so because they simply felt a need to send a message, and they may well have been successful (Brownback was quoted last night talking about how in November you would see a "moderate-conservative" block come together in support of the GOP, and even suggested that some of those who voted for Winn did so because he wasn't conservative enough....all of which backs away from the moderate-purging, RINO-bashing, true-believing Brownback revolution of the past few years, of course). But logically, that can't be the case for all of those tens of thousands of Republicans who voted against the incumbents. And those are GOP voters which, come November, with strong and potentially well-funded Democratic challengers facing them, neither our governor nor our secretary of state can afford to lose.

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