What’s the Matter With Kansas GOP?

Ryun Wants House Seat Back but Could Be Sidetracked by Republican Divisions

Posted February 5, 2007 at 6:17pm

A brewing battle for the Republican nomination to challenge freshman Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.) could leave the GOP hobbled in a district that otherwise presents a golden pickup opportunity for Republicans in 2008.

With former Rep. Jim Ryun (R) already running for the 2nd district seat he lost to Boyda in November and getting favorable reviews from the Club for Growth, and with the rival Republican Main Street Partnership signaling its desire to back potential candidate Lynn Jenkins, the state treasurer, a contentious primary could be in the offing. The discord among national GOP groups could put Republicans at a disadvantage as they seek to retake the conservative district — and could compound the divisions that have riven the Kansas GOP for years.

An ideologically driven Republican primary benefited now-Rep. Dennis Moore (D) in Kansas’ GOP-leaning 3rd district back in 1998 and in his first few battles for re-election. But Boyda spokeswoman Shanan Guinn said her boss is focused on legislating and ensuring she provides her district with first-rate constituent services, declining to comment on the politics of retaining a seat that seems sure to be heavily targeted by the Republicans.

“Most Kansans feel like the election was over on Nov. 7 and that February of 2007 is far too early to be talking about the election in 2008,” Guinn said.

Ryun, who lost to Boyda by 3.5 points in November after beating her by 15 points in 2004, announced this past week that he is running for his old job.

In an interview, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) enthusiastically welcomed Ryun into the race, saying the former Representative is “a very strong candidate.” But Cole stopped short of endorsing Ryun because of an NRCC policy he has instituted for this cycle that, with few exceptions, prevents the committee from taking sides in contested primaries.

Ryun served five terms in the House and is famous in Kansas for his record as a championship runner in high school, at the University of Kansas, and as a three-time Olympian and silver medalist. Ryun said he is rebuilding his political organization from the ground up, indicating he believes there is more to blame for his loss than the poor political environment that engulfed Republicans in the previous cycle.

“I think [voters] elected someone who they have very little idea what she stands for,” Ryun said of Boyda during a telephone interview. “I feel we can [win] this time.”

Before attaining a rematch with Boyda, however, Ryun first might have to deal with Jenkins.

Just re-elected to her second term as state treasurer, Jenkins is delaying a decision on whether to challenge Ryun in the primary until the end of Kansas’ current legislative session, which concludes March 8. But Jenkins spokeswoman Jenalea Linn said her boss is giving a prospective run more than just trivial consideration.

Reflecting the views of some Republicans who would prefer an alternative to Ryun, the Republican Main Street Partnership, a centrist group, is promoting Jenkins, even though she may yet decide against running.

“A candidate like popular state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins could go a long way toward recentering the American political system around the shared values and interests of ordinary citizen[s] and from the extremes, and special interests, that have been catered to for far too long,” said Chris Barron, spokesman for the RMSP.

This early jockeying by the RMSP once again could be setting the organization on a collision course with the business-friendly Club for Growth, which generally supports conservative Republicans and may be inclined to back Ryun.

Pat Toomey, a former Pennsylvania Congressman and Club for Growth president, called Kansas’ 2nd district one of the best pickup opportunities in the country for Republicans in 2008 and said Ryun is a great candidate with a solid voting record on the group’s priority issues.

Toomey said the club knows little about Jenkins, and he declined to respond to the RMSP’s statement touting her as a potential candidate. He said the club has yet to begin determining whether — or who — to endorse in the race for Kansas’ 2nd district, but said Ryun is viewed quite favorably.

“I think Jim would have a very good shot at taking the seat back,” Toomey said.

If Jenkins jumped into the race and a bitter GOP primary ensued, it would be nothing new in Kansas.

Republican infighting there has helped Democrats capture the governorship and other state offices, as well as allowed Moore to solidify his standing in the GOP-leaning 3rd district, which first elected him in 1998 largely due to a split between moderate and conservative Republicans.

Similar divisions, if they occur, could help Boyda enhance her standing in the conservative 2nd district — a district President Bush won in 2004 by a 20-point margin. Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 11 points in Moore’s district in 2004, but Moore beat his Republican challenger in 2006 by 31 points.

Two Kansas Republican officials did not respond to requests for comment by press time Monday.

With the 2008 cycle under way, some Republicans have been critical of Ryun, suggesting that he should have won his race despite a poor national environment that saw the Democrats take control of Congress for the first time since 1994. These critics say Ryun lost because he took victory for granted after drubbing Boyda in 2004, and failed to run a strong get-out-the-vote campaign in 2006.

Ryun also finished 2006 with $115,000 in his campaign account — a clear sign that he did not spend all of the resources he had available to him.

Ryun seemed to acknowledge as much in an interview this past week, suggesting his recent campaign wasn’t as thorough as it should have been. He said as a consequence he is scrapping his old political organization and starting from scratch.

“We’re raising money and starting from the ground up, all over again,” Ryun said.