Prairie Politics contributor Chapman Rackaway sent this analysis over late last night. Throughout the day, the rest of us will be chiming in as well with our own point of view.
I think the story of the night has to be Moran/Tiahrt. I had said for a while that I thought polls had over-reported support for Jerry Moran but that he would still win. That was one of few predictions that actually held. Moran has won, by around 5%. Most analysts had said, and I agreed, that the race would come down to the 2nd and 3rd districts. Moran would take a strong advantage from the 1st, Tiahrt would have strength in the 4th but not as strong as Moran in the 1st. The thought was that Tiahrt had to win big in the 2nd and 3rd districts to win. While Tiahrt won the 3rd district, he won by just a few thousand votes. Moran won the 2nd district and that was enough to carry him over Tiahrt. Tiahrt was very aggressive in his campaign and that’s what kept it close, but in the end it was not enough to overcome Moran’s great popularity.
Brownback’s win was guaranteed the moment that Ron Thornburgh dropped out of the race, but the fact 18% of voters chose Joan Heffington means that Brownback must know he has work to do if he wants to successfully unify the party behind him.
The two Congressional districts I followed most closely were the greatest surprises. The First District first. All of the polls in the last few weeks of the campaign showed that Tracey Mann had momentum and both Jim Barnett and Tim Huelskamp had seemed to stall out. Mann looked ready to win. Tonight, though, Tim Huelskamp established a stranglehold on the district. Jim Barnett did not win a single county west of Dickinson and Clay. Barnett’s popularity was mostly concentrated in his senate district, winning ten counties as of 1am. Mann won a dozen counties. Sue Boldra took two counties. Interesting was the fact that Boldra took two counties and early contender Rob Wasinger failed to win a single county. Wasinger might only outpoll Boldra by a thousand votes when it’s all said and done. But Huelskamp dominated the night – winning at least half the district’s counties and winning some by staggering margins. Huelskamp’s support spread beyond his state senate district and included vital areas like Reno and McPherson counties that should have been won by either Mann or Barnett. Mann started the night close to Huelskamp, but immediately Huelskamp established control and looks like he will not only win but win by more than ten points. Counties that should have been strong Mann areas like Reno county instead went big for Huelskamp. Polls underestimated Huelskamp’s support significantly, and Mann and Barnett clearly split the moderate vote. I believe another important story that will emerge is that turnout in the First District was high. I say this tentatively, but over 90,000 votes were cast and that’s almost half the number of registered Republicans in the district according to Secretary of State registration numbers. The turnout surge benefitted Huelskamp in ways that we knew was possible but few thought was probable.
In the Fourth District, a similar pattern emerged. A three-way contest looked set between Wink Hartman, Mike Pompeo, and Jean Schodorf. However, once county reports started it was clear that Pompeo would not be beaten. Like Huelskamp, Pompeo’s support was under-reported. However, turnout was lower than in the 1st, with just over 70,000 votes cast. And also unlike the First, the moderates were not split. Pompeo and Hartman split the right vote and Pompeo still won strong. A turnout surge was not likely with Pompeo’s win as a result. Another common thread between Pompeo and Huelskamp was that both candidates effectively staked out territory on the right. Both candidates made a home among conservatives and the votes went along with them. Every analyst and political scientist I spoke with believed that both the 1st and 4th would be down-to-the-wire races and the reality was both were fairly clear wins.
The Secretary of State race did not receive much attention, but the results are significant. In a three-way race between Kris Kobach, J.R. Claeys, and Elizabeth Ensley, Kobach won a clear majority and will face Chris Biggs in the general election. Ensley suffered from entering the race very late and both Ensley and Claeys had only a fraction of the name recognition Kobach had from an earlier run for Congress and time as state GOP chair. Kobach was so strong that his was the only three-person or greater race in statewide or federal primaries where a candidate won a clear majority. Biggs beat embattled senator Chris Steineger handily, and the Biggs/Kobach contest in the general election might be the closest and toughest race in November. Kobach was a controversial state GOP chair and he will struggle to earn support from moderates within the party.
I think many might miss the big message of the night from Kansas primaries. Moran’s win in the Senate primary suggests that the Kansas GOP prefers a more centrist message. But Moran’s win was an anomaly. Kobach, Pompeo, Brownback, and Huelskamp suggest that the state has taken a turn to the right. While many point to western Kansas as the locus of conservatism in the state, there is more to the story. The 1st and 4th Districts, along with the 3rd district’s Johnson/Wyandotte segment, represent the conservative part of the state while the north and east sections of the state comprising the 2nd district is more moderate.
The right didn’t win everything, though. Moran’s win, along with Lynn Jenkins’ and Sandy Praeger’s victories kept the conservatives from a primary sweep. The takeaway lesson from the Republican primary is, those who went right were rewarded and those who tried to stake out the middle struggled.
Among Democrats, the races were not nearly as bitter but very close. Lisa Johnston emerged late to secure the Senate nomination to face Moran in the fall. Johnston will have a remarkably difficult task because Moran will keep moderates in the party. Cheryl Hudspeth beat Thomas Koch and the baffling Sean Tevis for the chance to face Lynn Jenkins in the fall. Raj Goyle took the least surprising Democratic nomination of the night save those uncontested races of Alan Jilka in the 1st and Tom Holland for Governor. Goyle has the best opportunity to make an interesting contest of his race, but with Kevin Yoder becoming the GOP nominee in the 3rd District the Republicans might sweep the entire state Congressional delegation in November.