Suddenly, Democrats’ hopes in 2018 are surging in GOP-red Kansas

Joe McConnell

Joe McConnell

It’s Nov. 7, 2018, the day after Democratic candidates shockingly have won the governor’s race plus the 2nd and 3rd District seats in Congress in GOP-red Kansas.

Wait, what?

OK, we’re far, far from such delightful outcomes for Democrats — and disastrous ones for Republicans.

But Democrats these days suddenly have a right to hope they can be competitive and win one, two or all three of those races.

Democratic politicians — who picked up about a dozen seats in the Kansas Legislature in 2016 — are flexing a little political muscle now. They are showing some resiliency for a party that many rightfully considered pretty much dead just a year or so ago in the Sunflower State.

How might the victories be achieved in 2018?

As an example, the fallout from the disastrous Sam Brownback years could play into the hands of a Democratic gubernatorial candidate promising to put Kansas back on the right track. On the GOP side, the scandals attached to presumptive favorite Kris Kobach could hurt his candidacy.

The anti-Donald Trump fever could affect the two races for Congress. Meanwhile, the 2nd District seat will be open because Republican Lynn Jenkins is not running for re-election. Republican Kevin Yoder (assuming he doesn’t try for governor) will be a key target nationally for Democrats given that voters in the 3rd District narrowly backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Democrats are further encouraged because they could have decent candidates for all these contests. Among the possibilities or announced ones so far:

— Governor: Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former Kansas Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty.

— 2nd District: Former Kansas House minority leader Paul Davis, who lost to Brownback by a 50-46 percent margin in 2014.

— 3rd District: Army veteran Joe McConnell and businessman Jay Sidie.

One interesting aspect of this competition came into focus when The Kansas City Star’s Bryan Lowry interviewed Sidie about McConnell, a Bronze Star recipient for his service in Iraq.

“I mean, he moved all the way from California just to run here, which is kind of odd. Kind of a carpetbagger move,” Sidie said. “…I’m not saying he should stay out. I’m just saying, what was his motive for coming here?”

True, a primary could drain both candidates of funds they might need in a general election in 2018. Then again, McConnell sounds like just the kind of young, passionate candidate who could give Yoder a good run for his money, especially given McConnell’s outspokenness on the importance of health care issues.

Sidie’s loss to Yoder in 2016 by a 51.3-40.6 percent margin does not make him the automatic favorite for the Democratic nomination, either.

Sure, all of this could just be a lot of daydreaming about Democratic chances.

Kansas is a Republican state, full of GOP officials in statewide offices as well as in all the U.S. House and Senate seats. Consider the Brownback victory in 2014, a race he could have lost given the plummeting of state finances at the time. But he didn’t.

Another factor is that the name recognition of the current Democratic gubernatorial candidates is far lower than that of Kobach, Yoder and Atty. Gen. Derek Schmidt.

Moderate GOP candidate Ed O’Malley, an ex-Johnson County lawmaker, could tap into the middle ground and woo enough votes to win the governor’s race assuming he could make it out of a primary.

In the congressional races, while Davis carried the 2nd District by a narrow margin in the 2014 race against Brownback, it’s been a GOP stronghold in recent years.

In the 3rd District, Yoder has won consistently by wide margins. He has done just enough to woo moderate votes (properly fighting for extra National Institutes of Health funding, for instance) while being a consistent ultra-conservative voice in Congress on plenty of other issues.

Democratic candidates and their supporters have plenty of hard work ahead of them to come out ahead in 2018 in some crucial Kansas races. We’ll know by Nov. 7 of next year whether they succeeded with voters.