Obama’s Coattails a Bit Short in Plains States

Posted November 5, 2008 at 4:00pm

Though Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) overwhelmingly won the electoral college in his presidential race, his coattails weren’t quite as long as some Democrats were hoping — particularly in the Plains.

Several vulnerable Republicans were able to hold on to their seats, while one GOP candidate managed to oust a Democratic incumbent.

Kansas state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins (R) eked out a victory against Rep. Nancy Boyda (D), who rode the Democratic wave to win the seat in 2006.

As recently as September, polls showed Boyda ahead. But the record turnout for the presidential election may have brought out more voters for Jenkins in the solidly conservative 2nd district.

The race was one of the biggest tossups in the nation, with Jenkins emphasizing her farm-girl roots and Boyda presenting herself as a moderate. Boyda needed to secure a significant number of crossover votes and was hoping to win over independent conservatives with her moderate image.

But with McCain winning 57 percent of the state’s vote, she wasn’t able to hold on for a second term, garnering about 46 percent of the vote to Jenkins’ 51 percent.

Of the four Kansas House races, in fact, only one went to a Democrat — veteran Rep. Dennis Moore in the 3rd district.

Also in Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts (R) easily won a third term with 60 percent of the vote.

The GOP also held on to a few vulnerable seats in Missouri, helping to prevent House Democrats from picking up a hoped-for 30-seat gain nationally.

In Missouri’s 6th district, Republican incumbent Sam Graves easily retained his seat with 59 percent of the vote.

His win is no doubt a disappointment to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had high hopes that popular former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes could oust the four-term Republican.

Barnes appeared to have a shot: she kept up with Graves in fundraising and played up her family’s rural ties in an effort to win over the district’s northern counties. She attacked Graves on his travel spending and accused him of not paying taxes on his private airplanes.

But in October, the National Republican Congressional Committee linked Barnes to the recent economic turmoil, pointing to her position five years ago on Fannie Mae’s national advisory board.

In the end, the race was not as close as expected. Barnes won less than 40 percent of the vote and failed to win a single county in the district.

Missouri’s 9th district race was much closer, partly because the incumbent, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.), passed on another term to run for governor — a race he lost Tuesday night to Attorney General Jeremiah Nixon (D).

But Republicans still managed to keep the district red, with former state tourism director Blaine Luetkemeyer (R) winning in a race against freshman state Rep. Judy Baker.

The race was considered a tossup, though Luetkemeyer had the advantage in the conservative-leaning district. Both candidates kept a low profile after winning tough primaries, though at least in one television ad, the NRCC accused Baker of supporting tax increases.

Nebraska rounded out the area’s Republican victories. Former Agriculture Secretary and ex-Gov. Mike Johanns had been expected to easily win the Senate seat vacated by a retiring Chuck Hagel (R) — and he did.

Running a textbook campaign in a Republican state, he won against underfunded opponent Scott Kleeb.

Rep. Lee Terry (R) won a sixth term in a rematch with businessman Jim Esch, who had few Obama coattails to grab in a state that McCain won by 57 percent.

While Democrats had a net loss of one House seated in the Plains states, they easily won their races in Iowa and the Dakotas.

South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson’s (D) seat seemed in jeopardy when he suffered a brain aneurysm in December 2006, but he recovered and hasn’t missed a vote in more than a year. That atmosphere created an uphill battle for Republican challenger Joel Dykstra, who garnered 38 percent to Johnson’s 63 percent.

South Dakota’s only House Member, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) also coasted to another term, winning a low- profile race against businessman Chris Lien (R).

North Dakota also kept a long-term Democratic incumbent, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who won more than 60 percent of the vote.

Iowa played much the same for incumbents. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin and Republican Rep. Tom Latham won their re-elections with about 60 percent of the vote.

Harkin had been widely expected to win against businessman Chris Reed, while Latham faced a little bit more of a race against County Democratic Party Chairwoman Becky Greenwald. But Greenwald raised far less money than Latham and ended up with about 20 fewer percentage points.