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Close Calls But No Cigars on a Summer’s Election Night

Life is full of rude awakenings, but we found it especially annoying when our slumber was interrupted early Tuesday afternoon by a robocall from President Donald Trump. He was calling to urge us to vote for Kris Kobach in the Kansas Republican gubernatorial primary, but we’d already made up our minds to vote for the other guy, and Trump has never persuaded us to do anything, so we hung up at out the outset of what we expected to be a lengthy harangue and went back to sleep for another hour or so.
Even so, it proved a nice enough day. After washing the sleep out of our eyes and finding some clean clothes we took a top-down drive to the Woodland Methodist Church up n North Riverside to cast our ballots, where we ran into three of our favorite neighbors while standing in line, then talked it over with some political friends at a couple of local gathering spots. After that we went home for a long night of poll-watching, and at this late point in the night, we’re still watching. Those most-watched races are very, very close, and although Trump’s picks seem have the slight edge at the moment the closeness should leave him worried.
The GOP is declaring victory for Troy Balderson in that special election in Ohio’s 12th congressional district, but it’s too close for Democratic candidate Danny O’Connor to concede defeat, and far too close for Trump’s comfort. Trump won the district by double digits in ’16, and Republicans have held the seat by larger margins for decades, and this is just another special election in which the Republicans have lost double-digit leads since Trump was elected. So far the Republicans have narrowly edged out wins in most of the special elections, which have mostly been safe safe Republican seats vacated due to Trump administration appointments, but the Republicans have managed to lose a Senate seat in Alabama of all places as well a number of suburban congressional districts, and if you subtract all those votes from the Republican candidate in a number of upcoming congressional races in November the Democrats will be picking the next Speaker of the House and holding subpoena power in all the investigative committees. So far most of the Democrats are distancing themselves from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who always turns out lots of votes for Republicans for here in the heartland, but anyone they might choose will be troublesome for Trump, and there’s no telling where those Democratic subpoenas might lead.
It just turned Wednesday as we write this, and at the moment Trump’s favored candidate in the Kansas gubernatorial primary is clinging to an ever-so-slight lead over incumbent governor and oh-so-establishment candidate Jeff Colyer with plenty of votes left to be counted, but even if that holds up Trump won’t have much to brag about. It’s already clear that some 60 percent of Kansas’ Republican voters didn’t vote for Trump’s endorsed candidate among the crowded field, and given that the Democrats chose long time legislator and cautiously centrist and not very scary Laura Kelly as their nominee we expect another too-close-for-comfort race in November’s general election. The conventional wisdom is that Kobach will be easier than Colyer for her to defeat, and we’re inclined to agree, so it remains to be seen how Trump’s pick ultimately fares here in Kansas.
Here in the Kansas fourth congressional district incumbent Rep. Ron Estes easily defeated another guy named Ron Estes in the Republican primary, and although Democratic nominee James Thompson gave him a single-digit scare in last year’s special election following Rep. Mike Pompeo’s rise through the Trump administration, we figure that’s still a safe Republican seat. The state’s second and third districts overlap with the affluent and well-educated Kansas City suburbs, though, where white collar women who are sick of sexual harassment have an outsized influence, and given the national trends since Trump’s election we’d say that both are very much in play if the Democrats aren’t too shrill. Kansas is still a traditionally Republican state, and has been ever it since entered the union as a Lincoln-ian free state, but what we’ve got right now is not a traditional Republican party.
Although it’s of less importance to the rest of the world, we also kept an eye on our neighborhood’s Fourth District Sedgwick County Commission primary races. As usual we voted in the Republican primary for incumbent Richard Ranzau, who is locally legendary for his tight-fistedness with taxpayer dollars and aversion to any exercise of governmental power, and we also appreciate that he’s principled enough to have made the most noise about a fellow Republican county commissioner serving while under indictment for several serious criminal charges. A few months ago we caught a terrific twenty minutes of alt-folk-rock by an attractive young woman named Lacey Cruse during Kirby’s Beer Store’s Sunday afternoon acoustic sets, and were much impressed by her far-ranging intelligence during a post concert conversation, and somehow she wound up winning the Democratic nomination for the seat. Which makes for an interesting choice.
As much as we admire Ranzau’s tight-fistedness and laissez faire attitude and party-be-damned good government principles, he’s so darned principled he’s voted against a lot of things the state and feds wanted to pay for around here, as well as some public-private projects that probably would have benefited both the public and private sectors. Cruse disappointed us by running an unabashedly-“I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” campaign, with buttons proclaiming “women inspire change” and handbills asking voters to bring their mothers and daughters and aunts and sisters and nieces to the polls with them, but even with out help from fathers and sons and brothers and nephews it prevailed over a longtime black male politico in a district that stretches from our fashionably white and gay Riverside neighborhood through the barrio clear over to the ghetto where you’ll find Kirby’s Beer Store, and by now we can’t deny that Ranzau also represents a certain sort of white male identity politics.
All of which makes our various choices in November more interesting than usual. Usually we vote a straight Republican ticket, as do most respectable Kansans, but these days we’re pondering our choices. If that’s also happening in less reliably Republican states, as the election results suggest, our Grand Old Party could be in for a blue November.

— Bud Norman

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