Sunday, January 26, 2014

Davis running against Brownback … and Obama

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Likely Democratic Party candidate for governor Paul Davis will be running against incumbent Republican Sam Brownback in the November election, but it may seem like Davis is also running against President Barack Obama.

So far, Brownback's team has been more than happy to remind Kansans that Davis has been an Obama supporter in the last two presidential elections.

"There are only so many Kansans willing to vote for a guy who doubled down on the Obama agenda as an Obama delegate in 2008 and 2012," Brownback's campaign spokesman David Kensinger said recently.

The Davis campaign's strategy is to focus on Brownback. Davis has said that Brownback's push to lower income tax rates and eliminate income taxes for many business owners has shifted the tax burden onto low and moderate-income Kansans.

"Kansans won’t be surprised to see Sam Brownback attempt to make his re-election a referendum on what’s going on in Washington, D.C. because his own experiment on the people of Kansas is failing," said Haley Pollock, a spokeswoman for the Davis campaign.

Trying to link Davis to Obama would seem like a no-brainer in the Republican playbook.

In 2012, Obama collected 38 percent of the vote in Kansas. In recent weeks, the troubled rollout of the website for Obamacare has dominated headlines.

"He (Davis) owns the Obama agenda," said Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker. "His past choices define him and his campaign," he said.

"The Obama connection is a problem for Davis, especially among core Republican voters," said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University.

Davis must woo Republican voters to have a shot at defeating Brownback in November. In Kansas, 45 percent of registered voters are Republican, 30 percent are unaffiliated and 25 percent are Democrats.

Rackaway said linking Davis to Obama will probably be done during the campaign mostly by third-party advocacy groups, such as Americans for Prosperity.

"I imagine a staffer with AFP or a similar group is poring over photo morgues as we speak looking for pictures of the two together," Rackaway said.

Being tagged as a friend of Obama's has been political poison in recent Kansas elections, including the 2012 Republican Party primary when Brownback's conservative allies defeated a number of moderate Republican senators.

For his part, Davis, the House minority leader from Lawrence, has maintained that he is the moderate candidate who has worked with Republicans and Democrats on major policy initiatives.

His campaign treasurer is Republican William Kassebaum and Davis has pledged to run a bi-partisan administration.

In October, a SurveyUSA poll found that 58 percent of Kansans disapproved of the job Brownback was doing, while 35 percent approved. When the poll asked individuals' personal opinion of Brownback, 22 percent were favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, while the remaining were either neutral or had no opinion.

Rackaway said Republicans tying Davis to Obama may signal that Brownback sees Davis as a threat. But Rackaway said he thinks the Brownback campaign will focus on the message of lowering tax rates.