Georgia On Our Mind

Although it’s an admittedly odd thing to do on such a pleasantly warm evening as we had here in the Fourth Congressional District of Kansas, we spent much of Tuesday night following the returns from the special election being held far away in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. It’s the first political test of the Trump era since last Tuesday’s special election here on our home turf, which got a lot of national attention, and the Georgia race is getting a lot scrutiny for pretty much the same tea-leaf-reading reasons, so naturally we were interested to see how it turned out.
It was clear all along that the front-runner in the 18-candidate field was Democrat Jon Ossoff, which is an eye-raising fact in such a reliably Republican district, but given the district’s convoluted way of doing things there was plenty of suspense about whether he’d pass the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff that would probably result in a runoff. By the time we started getting drowsy in a more western time zone the news was that the Democrat had indeed scored a landslide plurality, but failed prevent a run-off against whatever Republican had limped into second place with from the crowded field. The district has been Republican since Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter, and was long held Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero Newt Gingrich, and has been red ever since, so the betting line is that all the Republicans and a sufficient number of the independents will line up against the Republican in the run-off schedule for June 20, but in the meantime we expect the Democrats and all their media allies to do some serious gloating about the outcome in such a presumably safe republican district.
They’re entitled to it, just as they were with the mere 7 point win by the Republican in our own reliably red district just a week earlier, but in the end it probably won’t have any more effect on the upcoming and predictably partisan votes in Congress. The next significant rounds of congressional elections are nearly tow years away, which is so long an amount of time that no sane person should dare any prognostications, but already the Republican pundits are noting that recent trends suggest the Republicans should retain their advantages, and the Democratic pundits are plausibly hoping that the recent past is no predictor of the future in the Trump era but already proclaiming moral victories.
The Democrats have to admit they fell a full seven points short of victory in last Tuesday’s election around here, which sounds like a lot but is a full of 25 percentages shorts of what the Republicans are used to, and they didn’t get the needed 50 percent in that Georgia district, but they did come close enough to crow about the plurality landslide. We don’t know Georgia’s Sixth District nearly so intimately as we do Kansas’s Fourth District, but we have tried to familiarize ourselves with the political terrain there, and from our currently disinterested perspective both parties seem to have their problems.
This Ossoff character in Georgia is only 30 years old, which makes him a disqualifyingly young whippersnapper from our aged Kansas perspective, and he seems a rather traditionally doctrinaire sort of Democrat, which is worse yet as far we’re concerned, but even the conservative media haven’t told us anything about his Republican challenger except that he wound the 15 percent or so necessary to make a run-off. All the local press and big city papers say that Georgia’s Sixth District is an affluent and well-educated and thoroughly suburban area next to Atlanta, and they don’t need to tell us that Kansas’s Fourth District is dominated by Wichita, a reliably Republican but ethnically and economically urban center that went Democratic by a slight majority while the rest of the entirely rural district went Republican enough to ensure that embarrassing 7–point victory margin.
,Both results suggest to us that both parties have plenty to worry about at the moment, and so does the rest of the country.

— Bud Norman

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Strange Times in Kansas

The Democrats aren’t even running a senatorial candidate in Kansas, the conventional wisdom is that the Republican is therefore more likely to lose, and it goes to show how very convoluted the state’s politics are at the moment.
There was a Democratic candidate in the race, duly nominated by a relative handful of voters in a primary where all the action was on the Republican side, but on Thursday he dropped out of the race without stating any particular reason. Our best guess is that with little money, less name recognition, and the nomination of a party that’s quite unpopular in these parts he simply decided to forgo the prolongated embarrassment of running a losing race. Ordinarily this would further ensure the already inevitable re-election of the entrenched Republican incumbent, but these are not ordinary times.
In this case the entrenched Republican incumbent, Sen. Pat Roberts, is not popular within his party. Although he has a respectable rating of 86 percent from the American Conservative Union, and has been far higher during the age of Obama, that heretical 14 percent has riled the Kansas conservatives. Over all those years in Washington Roberts has racked up a lot of debt ceiling increases and back room bargains and the sort of business as usual that Kansas’ rock-ribbed Republicans are now revolting against, and he survived a mud-slinging primary with less than 50 percent of the vote only because the anti-incumbent sentiment was split between a strong but tarnished challenger and a couple of no-names who were so little known that many people¬†knew nothing bad about them and thus decided to award them a protest vote. Despite this desultory primary the Republicans had reason to hope that Roberts could wash off the mud and rally the base with the valid argument that he is far more conservative than the alternatives, and let the anti-incumbent sentiment split between the Democrat and the Libertarian and the independent who were crowding the ballot.
The departure of the Democrat is a boon to that independent, however, and that independent was already leading Roberts in the polls. He’s an Olathe businessman named Greg Orman, and according to his widely disseminated advertisements he’s all about non-partisan practical solutions and common sense and all the other focus group-tested cliches. There’s enough talk in those ads about balanced budgets and fighting the Washington establishment to imply that he’s a conservative, but he ran for the Senate as a Democrat in 2008, he’s been suspiciously coy about which party he would caucus with as a Senator, and the Democrats here and elsewhere seem quite pleased with the prospect that he might wind up denying the Republicans another seat in such a supposedly safe state as Kansas.
The Roberts campaign has already started deploying its considerable war chest with the message that Orman is a “closet Democrat,” which seems wise. Talk of businessmen and common sense and practical solutions always plays well in Kansas, and that nonsense about non-partisanship has eternal appeal to those apolitical voters who can’t quite understand why the mutually exclusive political philosophies of the two parties won’t allow them to get along nicely and do all the simple things that would surely make everything right, so Orman must be pressed for some specificity. We would be surprised if Orman’s common sense and practical solutions were conservative enough to garner an 86 percent rating from the ACU, and stunned if he proved anything but a partisan Democrat, and even the most disgruntled Republican should be willing to forgive Roberts’ sins against conservatism when offered that alternative. To whatever extent Orman does try to veer right of Roberts it will only diminish the enthusiasm of those Democrats who have been abandoned by their candidate. There’s still a possibility that the Democrat will be on the ballot even without a campaign, something to with a Kansas law that requires some specific reason for dropping out, and with the minuscule Libertarian vote splitting more or less equally between the free-market types and the dope-smokers it would still be the four-way race that supposedly favored Roberts.
Orman could try to exploit Roberts’ unhappy reputation in the state as an establishment sort of Republican, but it’s hard to say how that might play in these unpredictable days on the prairie. While the too-establishment Roberts finds himself in the fight of his life the incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback also finds himself vulnerable in the polls and largely because he’s been such an unabashedly tax-cutting and down-sizing Republican radical. Brownback’s feuds with the “arts community” and the teachers’ unions and the public sector at large have provoked an energized and well-organized opposition, a sizable minority of his own party’s primary electorate preferred a more polite and well-bheaved young woman who barely campaigned at all, and the Democrats around here are giddy with the expectation that a State Representative from the commie college town of Lawrence will vanquish their hated right-wing foe.
They might be right, and Kansas might turn out to be that unexpected Democratic triumph in what is otherwise expected to be a bleak election cycle. There are those polls, after all, and these are undeniably strange times. Still, we’re not putting much stock in polls that were taken before Labor Day when people were still wearing white shoes and straw hats and paying little attention to the state’s suddenly convoluted politics. The state still feels like a conservative and Republican and generally sensible jurisdiction, as it has been almost without interruption since the Republican abolitionists won that shooting war with with the Democrat slavers back in the Bleeding Kansas days, and a gut instinct suggests that it will return to form after all the momentary fussiness is dissipated. The Democratic president remains palpably unpopular here, his party is held in the same disrepute, Roberts’ sullied record is more in in opposition than any of his opponents, Brownback’s feuds with the “arts community” and the teachers’ unions and the public sector at large were all necessary, and better an establishment Republican such as Roberts as a fire-breathing right-winger such as Brownback than any old openly or closeted Democrat.
The state’s media won’t be of much of help, as they all hang out with the “arts community” and the teachers’ unions and the public sector at large, but the Republicans are well-funded and have plenty of unflattering photos of President Barack Obama to show juxtaposed against their opponents in saturation advertising. Money and media attention will pour into the state from Democrats hopeful of denting such a deeply Republican state, but that will only rile the natives. Both Roberts and Brownback will have to campaign well, but they’ll always having the advantage of making their arguments to a Republican state. We might be wrong, as we sometimes are, but we still like the Republicans’ chances here in Kansas.

— Bud Norman