Democrats’ hopes of breaking the state Republican supermajorities in both houses of the Kansas Legislature appear to be fading, with several races still too close to call.
The minority party would need to flip one seat in the Kansas House, or three seats in the Kansas Senate.
But it seems they won’t manage even that, with several Democratic incumbents in central Kansas and Shawnee County appearing to lose and not enough gains being made in surburban Kansas City, Kan., to offset those loses.
Republicans have maintained the status quo in the Senate and could well gain seats, with a Manhattan-area seat currently in Democratic control too close to call.
In the House, Republicans flipped four seats, while Democrats picked up two. A handful of other races remain too close to call.
The final results won’t be known until next week, when all remaining mail ballots are tabulated and county canvasses consider provisional ballots.
Sustaining both supermajorities would allow Republicans to continue to override vetoes from Gov. Laura Kelly.
Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, acknowledged he was "surprised" by the GOP performance down ballot but that it was a testament to frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as messaging from Republican candidates.
"I think people are frustrated with the economy, they’re frustrated with education, kids not being in school," Longbine said.
The biggest battleground was in Johnson County, where some of the tightest Kansas House races were located.
On the House side, which has the best chance of a supermajority being broken, Democrats picked up at least one seat with Jo-Ella Hoye winning in House District 17. Another flip had a much slimmer 500 vote margin, with Mari-Lynn Poskin leading Jane Dirks by only 450 votes in District 20. According to Poskin, a Democrat has never held that seat.
But House Speaker Ron Ryckman appeared to survive his most competitive race yet, leading challenger Kathy Meyer by roughly 700 votes. And Republicans managed to hold onto District 49, fending off a challenge from Katie Dixon.
Republicans also hit back with flips of their own as Pat Proctor beat Democrat Mike Griswold in House District 41 in Leavenworth County. Democrat incumbent Rep. Tim Hodge, D-North Newton, trails Republican Avery Anderson by 1,100 votes in his Harvey County district.
In Wichita, incumbent Rep. Stephanie Yeager fell to Republican challenger Tom Kessler. And incumbent Rep Monica Murnan, a Pittsburg Democrat, is down against Republican Chuck Smith.
On the Senate side, Democrat Cindy Holscher won the race for the seat held by retiring Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, a flip widely expected for Democrats.
Democrat Jeff Pittman defeated incumbent Sen. Kevin Braun in the Senate District 5, marking another pickup for Democrats. The party also appeared to hold onto a Leavenworth County Senate seat held by Sen. Tom Holland.
But Republicans held the lead in virtually all other competitive state Senate races. In Senate District 18, conservative Mike Thompson held an 1,900 vote lead over Democrat Lindsey Constance in a race heavily targeted by left-leaning groups.
In Senate District 11, Republican Kellie Warren held a 2,600 vote lead over Democrat Joy Koesten.
Elsewhere, Republicans appeared to hold onto the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Julia Lynn, although Democrat Stacey Knoll fell only 2,000 votes shy of toppling Beverley Gossage. And Republican Rob Olson held a larger 2,600 vote lead over Democrat Wendy Budetti.
In a further blow to Democrats’ hopes in the Senate, two Republican candidates, Sen. Mike Peterson and Renee Erickson, had significant leads over their Democratic opponents with all precincts reporting. Erickson was running to replace Senate President Susan Wagle, who is retiring.
And in the most shocking result of the night, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley trailed his Republican challenger by roughly 850 votes. Hensley is the longest tenured legislator in the body’s history and won reelection in 2016 by over 4,000 votes.
A handful of races in both chambers remain too close to call.
One of the biggest issues that will result from who wins the supermajority is redistricting. The next Legislature will get to decide congressional and state legislative maps for the next decade.
Other issues, ranging from abortion to Medicaid expansion, will likely be shaped significantly if Democrats fail to break the supermajority.