Imagine it is early Wednesday morning, right after Election Day. And imagine you are a Democrat in Kansas. Or if you can’t, try to at least imagine what many might have gone through over the past several weeks.
Having spent years organizing and raising money and fighting hard against the influence of Brownback and Trump in Kansas, Democrats aren’t stupid. They know this is a state where Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters by more than 2 to 1 in many counties. They know that victories like Gov. Laura Kelly’s or Rep. Sharice Davids’s in the 3rd District don’t come easily. Democrats are realists; they don’t let their imagination run away with them.
Except maybe sometimes they let their guard down, and it does run away with them, just a little bit.
Maybe the talk of a Biden landslide was just too appealing to resist. Maybe the enormous fundraising totals for Barbara Bollier that everyone was talking about was a little too seductive. Maybe the talk of ending the 88-year reign the Republicans have had over Kansas’s U.S. Senate seats was just so historic that some Democrats found themselves going over from wanting it to happen, to believing that it would.
Kansas Democrats surely weren’t alone in experiencing all those muddled, exhausted, yet still weirdly excited feelings on Election Night night. No doubt some Democrats in Texas and North Carolina thought so to. All were disappointed.
Or maybe better, they were just reminded. Given a shock to help them recollect just what the electoral landscape actually looks like, and shake themselves out of their temporary reverie.
The failure of Bollier to generate sufficient excitement among the supposedly huge numbers of moderate Republicans willing to vote for a Democrat in northeast Kansas, enough to offset Republican votes for Marshall everywhere else, was certainly one such shock. So was watching the Republican party whittle down the Democrats’ presence in the state legislature even further, ensuring that the Republicans’ veto-proof majorities remained intact.
Looking across the state, the instances of heartbreaking losses and nail-biting results for Democrats multiply. In Hutchinson, a by-all-accounts popular Democratic legislator holds on to his seat by a margin of only five votes.
In Wichita, a scandal-plagued Republican county commissioner, caught on tape scheming to shift blame to his own county party chairperson, seems likely to have saved his seat against a charismatic Democratic challenger solely by promising to resign as soon as re-elected — because that way, he said to his voters, the local Republicans can choose his successor.
Lots of explanations can be provided — the nationalization of state politics and the fact that President Trump re-election campaign was energizing to Republicans being an obvious one. But even more fundamental than that is simply this: Kansas is, and remains, a very Republican state. That’s just what the counting of votes show. Maybe some Democrats forget that, sometimes, in their hopes and excitement. When that happens, they get reminders, like this past week.
I don’t mean that Democrats can’t ever succeed in Kansas; obviously they can. But as Gov. Kathleen Sebelius once observed, when that happens, it’s generally not because the Democrats have the votes to win.
Rather, it’s usually because the Republicans sometimes divide or antagonize or alienate their superior number of voters and hence lose. Last week, they didn’t.
Russell Arben Fox, Ph.D., runs the history and politics major and the honors program at Friends University in Wichita.