Stephene Moore Faces Difficult Path to History
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Depending on which party you ask, Stephene Moore is either the best or the worst possible Democratic candidate to run for her husband’s House seat here in the Kansas City suburbs.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle and is likely to come to light before November.
Moore, a registered nurse, announced in early April that she would run to succeed retiring Rep. Dennis Moore (D). It is a rare circumstance to say the least and, if she wins, it is believed she would be the first spouse to succeed a living Member.
Achieving that historic feat will be no easy task, though, especially in a very difficult political climate for Democrats.
Moore said that running for her husband’s seat was not planned when he announced his retirement last year. But she said she has always had a desire to run for political office at some level, and as she started thinking more about running for Congress, it made sense.
“I thought, I can do this. When a door opens, sometimes you just need to step through it and say there’s a reason this door opened and I’m going to take this on,” she said in an interview at her campaign office last week. “I’m happy to do this. I feel like I can do this job. I know I can do this job.”
But Republicans contend that it would have been a tougher race for them if Democrats had recruited someone better positioned to run as an outsider. Instead, they argue, she is the de facto incumbent in a year when being associated with Congress is hardly a net positive. It also doesn’t hurt that her last name lends itself so easily to GOP slogans such as “Moore of the same.”
The likely Republican nominee is state Rep. Kevin Yoder, a 34-year-old attorney who is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in Topeka. Yoder is the frontrunner in the nine-way Aug. 3 GOP contest. He raised $290,000 in the second quarter and was just promoted to “Contender” status by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“They got an insider who’s so inside that she’s married to the Congressman,” Yoder said in an interview, “yet doesn’t have the credibility or clout that he has. So I think that was the best candidate that Republicans could have wished for, but for a token candidate.”
Moore, who announced this week she raised $350,000 through June, argues that Republicans can’t have it both ways.
“I’m not the incumbent. People know that. However, being married to the current Member of Congress does allow people to draw some sort of parallel if that’s the case,” she said. Republicans “also say that I have no experience because I’ve never been elected. So that’s the complete opposite. If they want to pinch both sides, they will pinch both sides.”
Some of the benefits to being the incumbent’s spouse were on display as the Moores campaigned together on the Fourth of July, attending several local community celebrations.
Working the large crowd at the Corporate Woods Star Spangled Spectacular in Overland Park, their tag-team effort largely consisted of Moore introducing herself and then her husband.
“I’m running for Congress,” Stephene Moore would say as she passed out literature to voters spread out on blankets and lawn chairs awaiting the fireworks display under the threat of rain. “This is my husband, Dennis Moore. He’s retiring from Congress.”
“She’s running for your seat?” asked one somewhat confused attendee.
“She’ll do a great job, I promise you that,” Dennis Moore said.
“I’m the lovely spouse,” the Congressman told one potential voter, laughing as he pointed to a campaign leaflet that has a photo of the couple with their nine grandchildren.
Nancy Hall, a Democrat who was sitting on a blanket watching the musical acts at the July Fourth celebration in Leawood, was among the voters the Moores stopped to visit with.
“A vote for her is a vote for Dennis,” Hall said. “That’s how people are going to see it. If you like Dennis, you’ll vote for her. … I hope she wins.”
But Democrats like Hall aren’t the voters who will decide the election.
The 3rd district is true swing territory. Republicans carried it in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, but President Barack Obama won here narrowly in 2008. The more moderate-minded suburban voters in districts like this largely backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 — giving the party their current majorities in the House and Senate.
Alan Secrest, a Democratic pollster who has worked for Dennis Moore and is now working for his wife, said independent voters are the key.
“This is a district that has shown itself to be very open-minded with respect to partisanship over the years,” Secrest said. “You have a lot of independent voters in this district. … I expect a very competitive race here.”
Secrest also noted that Yoder, if he is the GOP nominee, will have a legislative record he will have to stand behind, and the Kansas Legislature is not exactly a popular body to be associated with, either.
On Wednesday, the Kansas Democratic Party released a Web video titled “Yoder Odor” mocking Yoder’s latest campaign ad.
Republicans argue that while the district voted for Obama narrowly, his policies are not popular here now. And Dennis Moore’s voting record is one that his wife will have to own.
“She’s going to have to decide is she is going to say that she supports the Pelosi positions that her husband supports: cap-and-trade, card check,’ Obamacare,” Yoder said. “If she supports all the policies that he supported, she is going to be on the minority side of the voters of this district.”
Moore said she does support the votes and positions her husband has taken, with one exception: the financial bailout bill the House passed in 2008.
Swing to the Majority
The 3rd district race is expected to be among the most competitive in the country this fall. Republicans targeted Moore for defeat repeatedly in the past, but with divisive GOP primaries and the strength of the incumbent, their efforts always came up short.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairman Larry Gates, who was on hand for Moore’s campaign office opening party last week, argued that her health care background and community activism give her an appeal that reaches beyond just the voters who have supported her husband.
“She’s the best candidate we could have gotten,” he said. “Stephene Moore has her own constituency.”
Truth be told, Moore was not the party’s first choice. Several other potential candidates were recruited and turned down the chance to run.
Republicans argue that not all of the Congressman’s support will transfer to his wife.
“Dennis Moore was always able to get a lot of support from the business community,” said one Republican strategist. “Her positions on cap-and-trade and health care are not going to go over well.”
Anecdotally, Yoder said he has heard from Republicans who have supported Dennis Moore in the past but who are not planning to vote for his wife this year.
Yoder is also aware of the national implications of this race, since it is one of the suburban districts that Republicans need to prove they can win again.
“We know we need to win this seat to help Republicans take the majority,” Yoder said. “We know this is that kind of seat.”