Brownback Aides Mentioned for Congressional Seats

Posted December 3, 2007 at 6:35pm

The 2010 election cycle could see a cyclone of turnover in Kansas, as Members of Congress and other aspiring elected officials jockey to move up the political pecking order in the wake of Sen. Sam Brownback’s (R) likely retirement. [IMGCAP(1)]

With Brownback having already signaled his intention to retire upon the conclusion of his current term — and possibly run for governor — and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) due to be termed out office in 2010, the movement to replace both politicians in the Sunflower State is afoot. Sebelius, a popular chief executive serving her second term, is expected to at least explore a 2010 Senate bid, as is Rep. Jerry Moran (R), who currently holds the Western Kansas 1st district seat.

“There’s going to be some serious jockeying for position to run for office in 2010,” one Republican strategist based in Kansas said.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R), who serves in the 4th district, could also opt to run for Senate, as could 3rd district Rep. Dennis Moore (D). Also, there are a few Democratic and Republican statewide elected officials who might consider a 2010 Senate bid, although a move to run for the Senate by the GOP candidates who currently hold statewide office is considered less likely for a variety of reasons.

Among the potential Democratic candidates who could run for Senate in 2010 are state Attorney General Paul Morrison and Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, although Parkinson, a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, is considered more likely to run for governor than for Senate.

Among Republican statewide elected officials, Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh already is raising money for a gubernatorial run, so he likely will not be a Senate candidate. State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins is currently running in the 2nd district GOP primary, and already might be in Congress by the time 2010 rolls around.

State Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, meanwhile, could provide Republicans with a unique option, especially against Sebelius. Although not the first potential GOP candidate mentioned by Republican strategists when they are asked to discuss the 2010 Senate race, the fact that she is a woman whose home base is in Lawrence (where she served as mayor in the late 1980s) could prove politically advantageous.

This cycle, Sen. Pat Roberts (R) is up for re-election. But Democrats thus far have been unable to ink a challenger to take him on.

However, wealthy executive Greg Orman (D) has acknowledged that he is considering a 2008 bid. Orman is a managing director for the firm Denali Partners LLC, and is the former chief executive officer of an energy company based in Kansas City, Mo.

Democrats were quite successful in Kansas last year. They retained the governor’s office and picked up the 2nd district seat when now-Rep. Nancy Boyda (D) ousted incumbent Rep. Jim Ryun (R). But the party has been unable to recruit a high-profile candidate to take on Roberts, although Democrats feel Orman could be close to announcing.

“Greg Orman is listening to a number of Kansans who are ready for new, independent leadership in Washington,” Kansas Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Gaughan said. “He is strongly considering this race because like many Kansans he is frustrated that Pat Roberts and Washington, D.C., have ignored the priorities that matter most to Kansas families.”

What happens in the 2010 House races will in some part be governed by the outcome of the 2008 races.

Boyda, whose district leans Republican, is a top GOP target this cycle. Should the winner of the Republican primary featuring Jenkins and Ryun oust her, the Democrats could turn to a new crop of candidates to try to get the Topeka-area, Eastern Kansas district back in 2010. Or, they could ask Boyda to make a third straight run as she already has proven she can win there.

In the event the Democrats had to move beyond Boyda, state Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and state Sen. Laura Kelly would probably get a strong look.

Similarly, if the GOP fails to take back the 2nd district in 2008, the party probably will look to a new crop of candidates to to carry its banner there in 2010. Among them could be state Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, and former Brownback chief of staff David Kensinger. Kensinger is a state government lobbyist living in Topeka, and also is the Club for Growth’s state director.

In the 3rd district, Republicans this cycle were successful in recruiting state Sen. Nick Jordan to take on Moore. The GOP believes Jordan can unite the conservative and moderate factions of the state GOP that have been at war with each other for more than a decade. That feud helped Moore win the Republican-leaning 3rd district when he first ran in 1998, and also aided Sebelius’ first gubernatorial victory in 2002.

Should Moore lose to Jordan in 2008, or opt to run for Senate in 2010, the Democrats could turn to Morrison or Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon. Before being elected state attorney general, Morrison served as Johnson County district attorney, a post that Moore once held.

If Jordan fails to take out Moore in 2008, former 3rd district GOP nominee Kris Kobach might make another run for the seat. Kobach, who lost to Moore by 12 points in 2004, is currently serving as state GOP chairman.

Should Sebelius spurn a Senate bid in 2010, it is very likely that Democrats will approach Moore, as long as he wins his bid for a sixth term in 2008. As such, there is a very big likelihood that the 3rd district seat will be open next cycle. Moore ran for attorney general in the 1980s and might still harbor ambitions for statewide office.

“Dennis is somebody the state party would talk to; he’s earned that and he deserves that,” a Democratic insider based in Kansas said.

The solidly Republican 1st district also might open up next cycle because of an incumbent who runs for Senate. Moran has flirted with a run for governor and Senator in the past, and Republican insiders say Brownback’s likely departure increases the probability of a Moran Senate candidacy in 2010.

If that happens, the Republicans viewed as likely candidates to replace him at this point include conservative state Sen. Tim Huelskamp and Rob Wasinger, Brownback’s current chief of staff and the campaign manager of his failed presidential bid. Huelskamp and Wasinger began campaigning for the 1st district in 2006 when it looked like Moran might run for governor, and some GOP insiders believe a primary between these two would be a dog fight.

Huelskamp still has more than $25,000 sitting in his Congressional campaign account.

“There are already warring factions in western Kansas over this,” the Republican strategist based in the Sunflower State said.

Although the 1st district is solid Republican territory, Democrats likely would contest the seat if it were open. Among their potential candidates are state Senate Assistant Minority Leader Janis Lee and state House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney. McKinney hails from Greensburg, the town devastated by a tornado in 2006.

In the Wichita-area 4th district, Tiahrt already has some competition on his hands, as state Sen. Donald Betts (D) is challenging him in 2008. Although the 4th district leans Republican, the Democrats feel they are capable of making some inroads there, especially if Tiahrt were to vacate his seat in 2010 to run for Senate.

Potential Democratic candidates there include Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, state House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Ward and state Rep. Raj Goyle. The Republican seen as the strongest candidate to replace Tiahrt is state Sen. Susan Wagle, a former candidate for lieutenant governor.

“Kansas is a big geographic state, and there is room for different political environments,” the Democratic insider said. “We’re kind of centrist as a whole, but it depends on what region you’re in.”