KS-Sen: 2008's Sleeper Competitive Senate Race?
A Democrat hasn't represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate since the 1930's. There is no way a Democrat could win a U.S. Senate seat in Kansas in 2008!
Kansas could very well be the sleeper competitive Senate race of 2008. Why? Several reasons.
1) Unintimidating Approval Numbers: Look at Pat Roberts' approval rating over the last year, according to Survey USA.
Since August '06, Roberts' average approve-disapprove has been 50.3-37.3. These are not the intimidating approval numbers of an unbeatable incumbent. If a Senator from a traditional Presidential swing state had approval numbers like these, that Senator would be a top-tier target. But, just because this is Kansas and not Ohio doesn't mean as much as you'd think (as you'll see in point number three).
2) Roberts Oversaw Intelligence Scandals: From 2003 until the Democrats' reclaiming of the Senate Majority, Pat Roberts served as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. During his tenure as Chairman, Roberts' oversight was so lax that the committee was dubbed "the Senate Cover-up Committee." Roberts rolled over for the unpopular Bush administration on numerous intelligence issues including warrantless domestic spying and wiretapping, Iraq oversight, leaking classified information, and allowing torture. I doubt that law-abiding Kansas families would be too thrilled with the fact that Pat Roberts supports Bush's ability to warrantlessly spy on them.
3) Kansas Growing More Democratic-Friendly: A few indicators suggest that Kansas is growing more and more comfortable voting Democratic. First, compare the approval ratings of a couple of chief executives. George W. Bush's approve-disapprove in Kansas stands at a shocking 38-60. Bush's approval in Kansas is so low that Pat Roberts himself has begun to qualify his support of Bush's Iraq War. Meanwhile, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who was re-elected last year by a 58-40 margin, has an approve-disapprove that stands at 65-31. The Democratic chief executive is considerably more popular than the Republican chief executive. Beyond that, ten years ago, all four of Kansas' U.S. House seats were held by Republicans. Now, the breakdown is two Republicans, two Democrats, highlighted by Nancy Boyda's stunning victory in 2006. Between Bush's unpopularity, Sebelius' popularity, and the overall Congressional shift, Kansans are clearly more comfortable voting (D).
4) Lack of Support from National Republicans: With 22 Republican-held seats (including recent Wyoming appointee John Barrasso) to defend, compared with 12 Democratic seats, the NRSC will have its hands full. Couple those numbers with the fact that the DSCC is trouncing the NRSC in fundraising, raising money at a pace double that of the NRSC. With the NRSC worried about defending first-tier battlegrounds like Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Oregon, and Colorado, they probably won't have much money left over to send in to Kansas to help Pat Roberts out.
5) The KS-GOP Mess: The Kansas Republican Party has seen better days. The KS-GOP is apparently near bankruptcy. The KS-GOP is getting sued over a labor dispute. And, following a spate of high profile Republicans in Kansas changing their voter affiliation to Democrat (including current statewide officeholders and a former KS-GOP Chair!), the KS-GOP has cooked up a rather creepy Unity Pledge. The KS-GOP is in bad shape.
The above five reasons outline why Pat Roberts can be deemed quite vulnerable in 2008. So, who is there to challenge him?
Last month, I outlined a dozen prominent Kansas Democrats. Of course, there are Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Congresspeople Dennis Moore and Nancy Boyda, though Governor Sebelius has expressed no interest and both Congresspeople are expected to run for re-election to the House.
There are also four Republicans-turned-Democrat on the list: first-term Lt. Gov. (and former KS-GOP Chair) Mark Parkinson, first-term state Attorney General Paul Morrison, former Kansas House Majority Leader Joe Hoagland, and former Lt. Gov. John Moore. As freshmen in their current roles, Parkinson and Morrison are expected to stand pat and accrue more experience before an attempt at another office. Hoagland and Moore both remain interesting options; in fact, Hoagland considered a challenge to Sam Brownback in 2004.
Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Kansas Congressperson Dan Glickman seems too comfortable at his current job as President of the Motion Picture Association of America to attempt a run; and, while I have heard rumors of interest from political activist, military veteran and Congressional spouse Steve Boyda, he may have his hands too full assisting Nancy in her re-election bid to undertake a statewide run of his own.
The three remaining names are: state Secretary of Revenue Joan Wagnon, whose resume is quite impressive; 2004 Senate candidate Joan Ruff, whose '04 campaign seemed to gain a lot of traction only to have her inexplicably withdraw her bid shortly before the primary; and, 1996 Senate candidate Jill Docking, a businesswoman who is also the daughter-in-law of former Kansas Governor Robert Docking.
Should Governor Sebelius, of course the dream candidate, definitively insist against a Senate bid, I'd offer that the two most interesting names that the DSCC could pursue are state Secretary of Revenue Joan Wagnon and former Kansas House Majority Leader and Republican-turned-Democrat Joe Hoagland. Regardless of who is pursued, it is inarguable that Pat Roberts is vulnerable to a strong challenger. I hope that the KS-Dems work hard to propel a challenger forward and that the DSCC does not overlook Kansas as a potential Senate battleground.