In Kansas Open-Seat Race, Family Matters

Posted April 19, 2010 at 7:09pm

More than most open-seat candidates, Democrat Stephene Moore’s bid in Kansas’ 3rd district will be heavily influenced by the man she is trying to replace.

Moore’s husband, retiring Rep. Dennis Moore (D), has a history of winning tough races in the competitive east Kansas district, and it’s clear she will get a boost from his name identification.

But from a strategic perspective, is it smart for Stephene Moore to align herself with her husband’s legacy, given the anti-Washington, D.C., sentiment circulating through the 2010 midterm elections? Does she even have a choice, given their shared last name?

“I think it’s a false choice,” said someone close to the Moore campaign. “You have to do both. There’s no logical way to conduct a campaign that doesn’t talk about what she’s going to do that’s unique to her and what she’s going to do that carries on what Dennis started.”

Stephene Moore officially announced her candidacy on April 6, more than four months after her husband announced he was leaving Congress at the end of this term. A source with knowledge of situation said the two decisions were separate: Rep. Moore announced his retirement, and then Stephene Moore decided to run for office.

If Stephene Moore is victorious this fall, her win would almost be unprecedented: Except for cases of death, a Member’s spouse has never successfully succeeded his or her husband or wife in Congress in modern Congressional history.

According to the Kansas City Star, the House historian could only find one comparable case in 1926 in which Rep. Katherine Langley (R-Ky.) decided to run to avenge her husband’s ethics conviction after he resigned. Langley lost the special election but defeated another Republican in the primary and, according to her official Congressional biography, lost re-election in 1930.

Although many Democrats in Washington were surprised by Stephene Moore’s interest, which was first floated by her husband at a luncheon for local party activists in late February, those close to her were not shocked by her announcement. Over the years, they say, she felt increasingly compelled to serve the community.

“She’s always been very involved in the community through volunteering with different groups,” said someone else close to Rep. Moore. “She’s always been really interested in children’s issues because she was a nurse … and I think that over the years, she has become increasingly involved and interested in affecting the lives in the Kansas City area and all around the country.”

Stephene Moore has lived in the 3rd district for four decades. Although she still maintains her license to practice nursing, she said she has not worked in a hospital for 10 years and instead is focused on volunteering in the community and working on international medical missions.

“It’s not been any secret that I’ve been interested … in issues of public concern for a long time in my community,” Stephene Moore said in a phone interview last week.

Stephene Moore has also signed her husband’s consulting team from his most recent campaigns, including fundraiser Michael Fraioli, pollster Alan Secrest, media consultant Martin Hamburger and direct-mail consultant Ed Peavy.

Sources say consulting firm the Dover Group will also likely be involved in some capacity. The Dover Group was started by several alumni of Rep. Moore’s first race in 1998, including his former Campaign Manager Chris Esposito, former Communications Director Mark Nevins and fundraisers Larry Jacob and Kelly Dietrich.

Not surprisingly, Stephene Moore might be in a race as tough as her husband’s first bid. House Republicans attempted unsuccessfully to defeat Moore almost every cycle in the swing district, which President Barack Obama won with 51 percent of the vote in 2008.

Although there are several Republican candidates in the race, state Rep. Kevin Yoder and former state Sen. Nick Jordan, the 2008 nominee who lost to Dennis Moore by more than 16 points, are the frontrunners for the Aug. 3 primary.

Democrats appear to be more concerned about Yoder, given his more moderate profile in the district — at least compared to Jordan — and his ability to raise significant funds so far.

What’s more, Yoder is expected to have a greater appeal in the populous Johnson County and Kansas City suburbs, where many moderate, independent and undecided 3rd district voters reside. Yoder raised more than $510,000 for his campaign through March 31 and reported more than $478,000 in the bank.

Jordan was considered the early frontrunner in the race, but he raised a paltry $93,000 in the first three months of this year. Jordan reported having $180,000 in cash on hand at the end of the March.

“Nobody would have anticipated that Kevin Yoder would be the one with over $500,000 and Nick Jordan would have less then $250,000,” one local Yoder supporter said.