For Republicans, elections this November probably won’t be as pleasant as this photo.

Will one of America’s reddest states feel blue this November?

Republican governors elected in the wave of 2010 have been, for better or for worse, America’s most prominent policy voices over the past four years. Unlike on Capitol Hill, legislation has been passing in droves through the statehouses. Especially in purple states that have elected Republican governors and legislatures, controversy has raged. Protests have become commonplace across the country against anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, municipal bankruptcy in Michigan, education cuts in Pennsylvania, and voter-ID laws in Ohio, among others.

But while these governors all face stiff challenges—Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA) is a severe underdog and Govs. Scott Walker (R-WI) and Rick Snyder (R-MI) face stiff challenges, though Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) looks solid for reelection—the most striking backlash is not in a state that voted for Obama. It’s in a state that hasn’t voted against a Republican for president since Barry Goldwater, or for Senate since Benjamin S. Paulen was dragged down by the unpopularity of President Herbert Hoover: Kansas.

There, Governor Sam Brownback has faced an all-out mutiny from factions in his own party after he followed a merciless purge of moderates from the state legislature with a program of tax and budget cuts unprecedented in its aggression. As a result, an incumbent who was elected by over thirty percentage points is fighting for his political survival. Almost as unpopular as President Barack Obama in a state where 103 of 105 counties voted for Mitt Romney, Mr. Brownback is down in the high single-digits against Democrat Paul Davis, who has cut a moderate image and is, for now, successfully focusing the campaign on Mr. Brownback’s unpopular policies. We now deem Mr. Brownback as endangered as Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and shift his race to Leans Democratic.

But Mr. Brownback is not the only Republican in Kansas facing unexpected headwinds. When incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R) defeated his primary opponent narrowly last month, we didn’t peg him to become the first elected Republican to lose reelection to the Senate. But charges in the primary that Mr. Roberts had abandoned Kansas for Washington have not gone away. He has been pilloried for not living in the state, barely returning to campaign since his primary victory, and turning his back on farmers. Even so, it seemed improbable that Mr. Roberts would face a serious challenge until his Democratic opponent, Chad Taylor, dropped out of the race and threw his support to independent businessman Greg Orman. If Mr. Orman can avoid being cast as a pawn of Mr. Obama in the next two months, he stands a good chance of unseating the unpopular Mr. Roberts. A poll released after Mr. Taylor’s announcement showed him leading 37% – 36%, with Mr. Taylor still drawing 10%. Assuming that much of that remaining support will flow to Mr. Orman before the election, he appears to have a narrow lead at the moment. We shift this race from Likely Republican to Toss-Up; it is now our opinion that Mr. Roberts is more vulnerable than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

And there may yet be another casualty in Kansas. State Attorney General Kris Kobach, a controversial figure who has taken a national role against immigration reform, gun control, and federal power, has entered the fray. Last week, he declared that Mr. Taylor must remain on the ballot despite assurances from his office to Mr. Taylor that he would be removed. This move, viewed as a political ploy to draw votes from Mr. Orman, has enraged Kansas Democrats and added another cause célèbre to his long list. And the same poll that showed Mr. Orman ahead shows Mr. Kobach trailing his Democratic opponent, Jean Schodorf, 46%-43%. And so on November 5th, it may be Republicans wondering, “What’s the matter with Kansas?”

 

Published by JP Meredith

John Meredith is a contributor to The Politic from New York, NY. Contact him at john.meredith@yale.edu.

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