At Kansas Days this year, a big topic is how to decide on the Republican candidates for office next year. There are a number of important positions to fill — Kansas governor, United State senator, perhaps two empty United States congress seats, and some other state-wide offices.
Several prominent Republicans expressed to me their desire to avoid divisive primary elections next year, especially the race for United States Senator between Kansas’ first and fourth district congressmen, Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt. It’s thought that a hard-fought primary would be expensive in terms of money and energy that should be conserved for application against the nominee of the Democratic Party.
(So far the Democrats haven’t produced candidates for either the senate or governorship. It seems a little premature to be worrying about that now, as we are some 18 months out from the August 2010 primary. This illustrates the extreme level of interest in the Republican primary contests.)
Whether candidates favor primaries seems to depend on their relative standing in the race. For Governor of Kansas, the two candidates are United States Senator Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh. It’s thought that Brownback has the upper hand in this race. In fact, the newly-installed chair of the Kansas Republican Party has managed a campaign for Brownback.
Addressing the fourth congressional district meeting, Thornburgh said “There are those who question whether within the Republican party we ought to have primaries. Some think we ought to do it like the Democrats. You just put a couple people in the back of the room and let them decide. … I’m not a big fan of that. I like this little thing called democracy, and I think it works.”
For United States Senator, the conventional wisdom that’s been explained to me is that Tiahrt has the advantage in this race, although the Moran campaign has a poll that shows its candidate in the lead. Whatever the case, Moran isn’t looking forward to a primary. Speaking to the fourth congressional district meeting, he said “I dislike this scenario … Todd and I have been friends since we’ve known each other. We’ve been allies on almost every issue that has arisen in Washington DC … While I don’t like what’s occurring here, that he and I may be squaring off against each other in a primary, at the end of the day, I want to everything that I can do to make sure that we remain allies and friends.”
I think that Kansans of all parties are best served when politics is conducted in the open and not in secret. To avoid what some are fearful of — wasting money in primaries — Republican candidates in primary elections could agree to spending limits. Candidates could also agree to campaign on issues only, avoiding negative attacks on their opponents. The problem is, however, that as Rep. Moran said, he and Rep. Tiahrt agree on almost everything. When that’s the case, campaigns usually shift to the negative.