The bitterly fought U.S. Senate primary in Kansas ended on Tuesday night. Incumbent Senator Sam Brownback (R) is stepping down after 14 years to be the state’s next Governor. Brownback unsuccessfully sought the 2008 GOP presidential nomination and the Republican Party will not have a problem retaining this seat.
On primary night, Congressman Jerry Moran defeated Congressman Todd Tiahrt by a 50% to 45% margin. Moran was able to outspent his opponent by a 2 to 1 margin, and his victory margin came from the heavily Republican first district which he has represented for 14 years. Moran’s district has 203,000 Republicans while Tiahrt’s district has 168,000.
Both GOP candidates were in agreement on practically every issue, but Tiahrt was viewed as the candidate of social conservatives while Moran had the backing of many economic conservatives. Sarah Palin was in Tiahrt’s corner along with James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tea Party Express, Kansans for Life, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), Bush political director Karl Rove, publisher Steve Forbes, talk show hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and isolationist conservative Phyllis Schlafly. The GOP website Red State said Moran would spend his time in the Senate “undermining conservatives.”
Moran had the support of Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Thune (R-SD) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) as well as the influential Kansas Farm Bureau.
Both candidates described themselves as conservatives and it was difficult to tell them apart when their ratings from the various interest groups are examined.
American Conservative Union:**Tiahrt 91%, Moran 92%.
National Right to Life: *******Tiahrt 100%, Moran 96%.
U.S. Chamber of Commece: ** Tiahrt 94%, Moran 91%.
AFL-CIO: ****************Tiahrt 14%, Moran 14%.
Support of House GOP: ******Tiahrt 93%, Moran 96%.
Moran had a wide lead throughout the primary but lost considerable support in the final month when Tiahrt focused on three of Moran’s controversial national security votes. Both candidates had similar views on defense and foreign policy issues, but from a conservative perspective, Moran had three bad votes.
He wanted to lift the trade embargo on Cuba (his motive is to sell Kansas wheat), he was one of only seven Republicans who opposed a bill sanctioning military tribunals to try suspected terrorists, and he also opposed sections of the Patriot Act.
National security and foreign policy concerns are important to the Kansas GOP. Senator Brownback was best known for his efforts to focus global attention on the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Tiahrt definitely gained support with his attack ads, but other Republicans felt he was too critical of Moran. Rep. Tiahrt knew he was was trailing by a significant margin so he stepped up his negative comments:
He’s a moderate and I’m a conservative. He’s a liberal compromiser. . .I was conservative when conservative wasn’t cool. Moran is an election year conversion. . . Moran’s soft on terrorism, soft on security, soft on immigration and not a true conservative. . . He votes with the Democrats a lot more than I do. He likes to go with the wind and with whatever he sees that’s popular. . . He has a dismal voting record.
The problem for Tiahrt was that he was so negative voters began tuning him out. The Kansas City Star was one of many newspapers to denounce the harsh tone of the campaign and noted “This race stands out because no other primary contest has reached a level of vitriol anywhere close. Moran and Tiahrt are playing for keeps. The winner, more than likely, is senator for the rest of his career.”
As the frontrunner, Moran tried to ignore Tiahrt and his major issue in the primary was deficit reduction and opposition to the Obama stimulus. His standard speech included these lines:
What has happened since the Democrats passed their nearly trillion-dollar stimulus is nothing more than a return to the status-quo of more government spending and ever-increasing deficits, with no real benefits for Americans. Millions of Americans remain unemployed, and our economy remains stagnant. . .
Obama promised the creation of almost 3.5 million jobs. Instead, America lost an additional 2.9 million jobs. The President promised Kansans that his stimulus package would produce 33,000 new jobs in the Sunflower State. Instead, Kansas lost more than 47,000 jobs and 101,000 residents remain out of work That is an increase of 12,000 over a year ago.
Tiahrt’s hometown paper, the Wichita Eagle, ended up endorsing Moran:
Tiahrt can be too ideological, relying on GOP talking points and marching orders. His campaigning and claims this election also have crossed the line. We considered endorsing Tiahrt for parochial reasons, knowing he will fight for Wichita’s interests. But Moran’s more deliberative style is a better fit for the Senate and the state.
Moran picked up the majority of newspaper endorsements including the Hutchinson News:
The race to succeed U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback has been one of the ugliest in recent memory. . . Our choice is Moran, who has a stellar record of being a constituent-focused representative for the sprawling Big First District and hopefully will retain some sanity if he emerges the winner.
But voting record and platform aren’t the main reasons we endorse Moran. It is his reputation as someone who is thoughtful, listens to his constituents and serves the interests of his district. His work ethic is shaped in large part by a decision to keep his family in Kansas and essentially commute to Washington during the week, and demonstrated by his high visibility all across the district.
The Kansas City Star made these observations about the primary:
They supported the Iraq war and the Bush tax cuts, but they opposed health care reform. Both oppose abortion and same-sex marriage and back faith-based charities and prayer in public school. Together, they rank among the most conservative members in Congress. . .
“They’re pretty close,” said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “We’re splitting hairs here,” said Kansas State University political scientist Joe Aistrup. “When you look at their voting records, they are incredibly close.”
But the two candidates have parted company on some key votes that give each candidate bragging rights as to who is farther to the right. For Tiahrt, the argument begins with the sweeping tax cuts proposed by President George W. Bush in his first term. Bush originally sought a $726 billion cut, which Tiahrt supported. Moran was one of just 12 Republicans who opposed it because of the increased spending that went beyond the tax cut and the impact on the deficit. Both wound up backing the enacted $350 billion cut. . .
Moran also split from most other Republicans — and Tiahrt — on Bush’s prescription-drug program for Medicare, forecast at the time to cost $400 billion over 10 years. Moran voted no, drawing a rebuke from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who had thought that he had Moran’s commitment for a “yes” vote. “Some members had assured me that they would be with us, but when the crunch came, they weren’t,” Hastert wrote in his 2004 book, “Speaker: Lessons From 40 Years in Coaching and Politics.” . . .
So how will voters make decisions in this race? It could come down to a question of style. Tiahrt brands himself as a fighter who will go to the mat for Kansas. He said he’s met “nobody” in Washington who thinks Moran is a fighter. Moran isn’t buying it. Speaking loudly and pounding on tables isn’t enough, he said. “It’s about being able to accomplish things,” Moran said. “I’m very proud of a record that demonstrates the ability to get things done.”
Jeffrey Albert Chapin of Hutchison, Kansas:
Great analysis! I was surprised the election night results in this race were so close. Throughout the state it seems conservatives out-performed the polling leading up to the election. I don’t know if this has national implications or if there just were not enough polls conducted. I usually vote for moderate Republicans (moderate in Kansas terminology) and was pretty disappointed. Kevin Yoder in KS-3 is actually from my hometown and he is going to be an impressive young congressman. I am from KS-1 Moran’s old district and the new rep Tim Huelskamp is a movement conservative who ran on a platform of no compromise, ever. Needless to say I didn’t vote for him. It is likely Republicans will control the entire congressional delegation, governorship, large majorities in both houses of the state legislature, and possibly every single state-wide office in Kansas come November. Which will inevitably lead to a new Kansas GOP civil war at some point, but national Democrats have been a unifying force in the last few years. Thanks for writing about Kansas.
Jerry D. Sullivan of Kansas City spent 13 years in the military:
I totally agree with your assessment. I am considered a blue collar conservative Rep. and am center-right in all my viewpoints except for abortion. I totally believe it should be illegal. The Tiahart campaign went to negative against a conservative Moran. Many folks in my circle of life were having problems with a christian Tiahart attacking Moran in such an unChristian way. One of the reasons that moderates fear the Christian Right, which I am definitely part of, is they seem to want a theocracy in our Republic. They also come off as the Pharisees of old. When a Christian is in the political arena and is elected to office he must remember that he is not an evangelist but a representative of all the people and not just those that claim Christianity. A Christian has every right to use the soap box to preach morality but he can not use politics and power to enforce it. When it comes to the abortion issue, I believe the office should be used to stop the senseless killing of babies. But when it comes to other sins such as homosexuality, adultery, etc. these issues have to be won by the church changing the hearts of men and not politicians.Making laws against personal human choices. Even our G-d who we worship in the Bible, who warns us against these things knew that men had to make choices on these issues. I hope I haven’t preached too much but the bottom line is, Tiahart lost and now we must get behind Jerry Moran and support him for Senator of the great State of Kansas. shalom. I voted for Tiahrt.
Beth Donovan of Easton, Kansas is a technical engineer.
I was relieved that Moran won. Tiahrt has spent a lot more of our money on earmarks than Moran – a whole lot more. But to be perfectly honest, I have met both men. Moran impressed me with his thoughtfulness, his support of military veterans (of which Tiahrt said nothing about) and his ability to give me a firm handshake and look me in the eye when I spoke to him.
Tiahrt seemed kind of creepy to me. His handshake was wimpy. He did not look me in the eye, and when I asked him a question about regulation, and how he would minimize them, his answer made no sense. I got a bad feeling from him – like in 4 or 5 years, he would end up being in some kind of awful situation – be it getting free trips from lobbyists or just being unethical and getting caught – that would embarrass Kansans.
Furthermore, the fact that James Dobson endorsed him was an immediate turn off for me. I’m not an evangelical Christian. Tiahrt is for a Constitutional Amendment for teacher-led prayer in schools. I’m against that. A moment of silence, fine. Every kid prays before tests, but prayer is a private thing, not something to be taught by public schools. I was terribly disappointed when Sarah Palin endorsed him, because I have been giving $25 a month to SarahPac, and I did not realize that social conservatism was going to trump fiscal conservatism in her endorsements.
Tom Bohm of Wichita is retired:
It was no fun to watch or hear all of the political campaining that went into this primary. Goes to show, smear works–its a shame. The average person gets lost and truly doesn’t know who to vote for.