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Why are GOP heavyweights flocking to Kansas?

Historically, Kansas has always been politically conservative.

The Sunflower State has been represented by a Republican senator in Washington D.C. since 1939, all four current Representatives to the House are Republican, and every state official — from the governor to the state treasurer — is Republican.

But in this year’s midterm elections, past precedent may not say much about the future of both the senatorial and gubernatorial races.

Incumbent Republicans Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback are facing tough re-election battles. The senator’s opponent is Independent candidate Greg Orman; Brownback is challenged by Democrat Paul Davis, who is a state legislator and the House Minority Leader.

Kansas was supposed to be an easy win for both, but these two races have thrust the state into sharp focus during this year’s midterm elections, especially because a Roberts’ win or loss may determine which party will control the U.S. Senate.

Pat Roberts

GOP Sen. Pat Roberts is battling a perception problem in his bid for re-election, as some Kansas voters believe he’s too embedded in the D.C. establishment. Credit: Associated Press

Roberts, who has served as a congressman and senator for more than three decades, is facing a perception problem: that he’s embedded in the D.C. establishment and lost touch with fellow Kansans.

According to the New York Times, he doesn’t have a home in Kansas but rents a room in a supporter’s house.


Republican Gov. Sam Brownback faces a tough re-election battle in Kansas for the policies he has called “a real, live experiment.” Credit: NewsHour

Gov. Brownback, who was a congressman and senator before being elected governor in 2010, is facing a different kind problem; it’s not so much about perception but policy.

The governor’s race is in some ways a referendum on what he called a “real, live experiment.” The “experiment” included massive income tax cuts, the privatization of Medicaid, and cuts to school spending.

Since his tenure as governor, the state’s credit rating has been downgraded and there’s a projected budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Enter the celebrities of the Republican base are swooping in to help rally the Kansan electorate. So, who’s coming to town?

Bob Dole, Pat Roberts

Former Kansas Senator and presidential candidate, Bob Dole, 91, speaks at a campaign event for Sen. Roberts in Kansas. Credit: Associated Press

The 91-year-old former Kansas senator and once presidential hopeful Bob Dole campaigned at three events this past week.

“Pat and I have been friends for some time,” Dole told the AP. “When I had a problem in the House getting a bill passed, I’d call Pat.”


Arizona Sen. John McCain spent a day in Kansas campaigning for Sen. Roberts. Sarah Palin also showed up in support of Roberts. Credit: KCPT/Lindsey Foat

Arizona Sen. John McCain showed up for a day to stump for Roberts.

Sarah Palin also joined the senator to serve up hot breakfast to Kansans. She donned a purple Kansas State sweater while plating pancakes and sausages.

In the coming weeks, other GOP heavyweights are expected make appearances, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visits Kansas City

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared at a fundraiser for Gov. Brownback in August. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has also campaigned for Brownback. Credit: Getty Images

Household name Republican governors have already flown to Kansas to boost Brownback.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was in Wichita last week. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped in this past August for a fundraiser. They made a quick stop for some BBQ and photo-ops at the famous Kansas City joint Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que.

With a little more than a month left, Kansans can probably expect to see other Republican celebrities swoop in to ensure that one of the reddest states doesn’t turn blue.

See NewsHour Weekend’s full report on Kansas’s surprising midterm election races below:

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