The Kansas primary

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My periodic work-related travels to Wichita this spring and summer have given me the chance to watch another state's elections up close, and I was back in Kansas for last Tuesday's primary. While the process is essentially the same there as in Oklahoma, there are some interesting differences in the way Kansas does elections.

As in many states, Kansas elections are under the authority of their elected Secretary of State. (Oklahoma is a rare exception -- our election board is an independent agency, and secretary of state has been an appointive office since the Boren-era constitutional amendments that eliminated a raft of statewide elected officials.)

Kansas has an automated the process for putting results on the web. Every 15 minutes on election night, not only were the statewide vote totals updated, but so were results by county -- how many precincts reporting and how many votes for each candidate. And better still, a map for each statewide and congressional race was automatically updated. Counties were color coded to show which candidate was leading. No color at all meant no results reported yet, a lighter hue indicated the candidate leading the incomplete results, and a darker hue indicated the candidate who finished first where results were complete. It was easy to tell where the remaining votes were coming from, and when the Republican Senate primary narrowed to a few thousand votes, it was clear the race would widen when all the results were in, since the remaining precincts were in the leading candidate's home turf.

As it's Kansas, most of the action was in the Republican primary, as it has been since Kansas became a state in 1854. Sam Brownback is leaving the U. S. Senate to run for governor. Two long-time congressmen -- Jerry Moran, who has represented the northwestern two-thirds of the state's area since 1996, and Todd Tiahrt, who has represented Wichita and a few counties south and east since 1994 -- quit their safe seats to seek to move to the Senate.

Both are conservatives. Tiahrt -- his T♥ yard signs explained his name's pronunciation -- is known for his work to protect gun owners from unwarranted Federal intrusion.

Moran was seen as more of a deficit hawk -- he scored better on Club for Growth's "RePork Card" -- but not really a conviction politician on constitutional issues. Paul Moore, who quit his job as an assistant U. S. Attorney in January to manage Moran's campaign, left the campaign after two months and endorsed Tiahrt, using phrases that I suspect apply to many Republican politicians of the sort that Man of the West calls "laundry-list conservatives":

After more than two months of intense interactions with Jerry Moran, I came to believe that he was not instinctively conservative and that his willingness to actually lead against the tide of government intrusiveness into our lives and businesses was practically nonexistent.

I have worked with many politicians throughout the last two decades, including during my service as a Regional Political Director for the Republican National Committee. Yet, it was stunning to see a man with Jerry Moran's decades of government service be so seemingly unsure of himself and his beliefs. While he is a hard worker, I still cannot tell you with any certainty what he truly believes.

To my surprise, Jerry Moran winced at the frequent use of the words "conservative" or "pro-life" to portray himself out of fear he might offend moderate or pro-choice voters. He ultimately relented to the political realities and has thoroughly advertised himself as "pro-life" and "conservative" to describe who he needed to become to get elected.

Our country desperately needs men and women of backbone who don't have to consult political weather vanes to know what they stand for. Neither candidate is perfect, but Todd Tiahrt will instinctively stand up for the country's founding principles - without regard for the political winds. Jerry Moran would be reliable - so long as the winds are blowing in a conservative direction, as they are now.

Tiahrt had support from Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, and the National Right to Life PAC (based on Tiahrt's track record as a leader on the abortion issue. Moran had twice as much money to spend, but Tiahrt got 45% and held Moran to just under 50%, with two minor candidates splitting the rest.

So when's the runoff? Kansas doesn't have them. In the race to replace Tiahrt in Congress, the winner, Mike Pompeo, received 39% of the vote. A two-candidate runoff wouldn't have clarified the situation much, as the second and third place candidates differed by only about 800 votes (about 24% each), and the 4th place candidate had 13%. This was a perfect situation of instant runoff voting.

At one point there were polls indicating that the sole pro-abortion candidate in the primary, State Sen. Jean Schodorf, had a strong enough core of support to finish first, as the pro-life majority split their support among the other four candidates. In the end, pro-lifers consolidated around Pompeo. That consolidation was helped by controversy over businessman Wink Hartman's claims to being a lifelong Kansan. Hartman, like Tulsa's former Mayor Kathy Taylor, had a homestead exemption in Florida and had been a registered and active voter there. (Unlike Taylor, there's no indication he was simultaneously registered and voting in two states.)

Without a runoff, and with less than 40% of the vote, Pompeo doesn't have much of a mandate to unite the party behind him, and there's no second round to encourage former rivals to back one or the other. In fact, the folks who were scolding Randy Brogdon for waiting a whole week to make a formal endorsement of Mary Fallin need to head to Wichita to give a good talking-to to three of Pompeo's four Republican opponents, who are so far refusing to endorse or campaign for him.

Two other Republican congressional primaries were won with less than 50% of the vote. The winner of the race to replace Moran in CD 1 was won with 35% of the vote, and the vote in CD 3 (suburban KC) was 45-37, with the remaining 18% split between 7 candidates in single digits.

Moran isn't the only (alleged) weather vane in Kansas politics. At the edges of farms, along the highways, big campaign signs are posted in a way that protects them from being destroyed by the constantly blowing Kansas wind. A typical rig involves an inverted, L-shaped section of PVC pipe, to which the top and one side of the sign is attached. The pipe holding the sign sits in another pipe attached to a fencepost, able to swing freely as the wind direction changes. Pretty smart.

Kansas allows write-ins. Primaries that drew no contestants or only one contender were still on the ballot, and voters could opt for another choice.

Party precinct officials in Kansas are elected at primaries. (Oklahoma parties hold caucuses.) Republicans and Democrats alike voted for a precinct committeeman and precinct committeewoman. Many of these elections drew only one candidate or no one at all. Here are the results from Sedgwick County, including all the primaries for precinct officials and township clerks.

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Ted D said:

Having driven through Kansas and Wichita twice last week on the way to and from Colorado, I am familiar with all of the candidates signs and the inverted L mounting you mentioned.

Thanks for the report on how those primaries went and a little more background into some of the candidates.

Their primary system sounds a little more complicated than ours, but in the long run it sounds like a better system than the one Oklahoma uses to me.

Another state election site I'm impressed with is Nevada -

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 10, 2010 5:54 PM.

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