Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is in the fight for his political life in what was once one of America’s deepest red states. In 2004, Brownback won election to the U.S. Senate with 69.2 percent of the vote; in 2010, he won the state’s governorship with 63.3 percent of the vote. Now, the incumbent faces a serious challenge from his Democratic opponent, Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis.
In a recent CNN/ORC poll, Brownback and Davis are tied among likely Kansas voters, with 49 percent each, and Brownback actually trails Davis by three percentage points among registered voters surveyed. After he won election to the governor’s mansion so easily just 4 years ago, it’s clear that the once politically invincible Sam Brownback is in some serious trouble.
Much of the governor’s political woes stem from his fiscal policies over the past several years of his administration.
Upon winning election in 2010, Brownback set out with an ambitious fiscal agenda to revamp his state’s entire tax code. According to John Judis of the New Republic, “the heart of [Brownback’s] program consisted of drastic tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminating taxes on income from profits for more than 100,000 Kansas businesses.”
This sweeping legislative agenda has had consequences, both fiscally and politically.
Regarding the former, the effects on the state budget have been devastating. Judis wrote elsewhere in his article that “during the first year that [Brownback’s] plan was in operation, which ended in June, the tax cuts had produced a staggering loss in revenue – $687.9 million, or 10.84%.”
In the midst of these massive budget changes, Brownback overcame opposition from moderate Republicans in the state legislature and “during the 2012 Republican primaries, he supported conservative challengers against sitting state senators,” according to Judis.wrote that “to listen to school officials, teachers, parents and social service agencies talk about the cuts is to hear growing alarm about whether Kansas will be able to educate its children and help the poor as in the past.”
The lack of enthusiasm even among Republicans about Brownback’s re-election campaign was on full display in the summer, when Brownback’s little-known challenger for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, businesswoman Jennifer Winn, won 37 percent of the GOP primary vote.
Even after being renominated by his party, Brownback still suffers from a less-than-excited base. John Judis wrote that “an event with [former Pennsylvania senator] Rick Santorum was originally scheduled in July for the CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, which can hold 4,800 people, but was moved to the showroom of a car lot in suburban Olathe, where 200 people showed up.”
Brownback is also seeking re-election in a political climate that is far less hospitable than that of 2010. Brownback’s fellow incumbents, Sen. Pat Roberts and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, are both facing serious challenges from independent candidate Greg Orman and Democratic candidate Jean Schodorf, respectively.
According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, 49 percent of likely voters in Kansas view Brownback unfavorably, while only 35 percent view his challenger, Paul Davis, the same way. The same survey indicates that Davis is leading Brownback among independent voters by double-digits, 26 percentage points to be exact.
Among moderates, Davis’ lead is even larger; 68 percent of moderates plan on voting for Brownback’s challenger, and 80 percent of moderates report having their minds made up about who will receive their vote in the Kansas gubernatorial election.
It is hard to believe that in a state that has voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1964, Republicans are at risk of losing both a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion. However, Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback’s political fates are not entirely linked; the most compelling argument against Roberts might simply be his longevity in the Senate, while the opposition to Brownback is fueled by more recent policy failures.
Patrick Caldwell of Mother Jones wrote what would serve well as a summary of the political situation in the Sunflower State: “In the end, Brownback’s red-state experiment may wind up turning this GOP stronghold purple.”