By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — Big elections mean big money, but not necessarily for Kansas Democrats.
Fundraising for Kansas Republican congressional incumbents is as robust as ever, according to OpenSecrets.org. GOP candidates so far this election season have raised more than $5 million.
In contrast, Democrats — who have candidates in two of the state’s four House districts — have not yet cracked $90,000.
Democrats failed to field candidates in 41 state legislative primary races in August.
Joan Wagnon, Kansas Democratic Party chair, remained optimistic, noting that it’s still the highest number of state candidates Democrats have posted in recent years. Republicans missed running in just five primary races.
“I think part of the difficulty in fielding candidates this year was magnified by the fact that boundaries changed so close to the filing,” Wagnon said, referring to state redistricting maps released only days before the primary filing deadline. In a number of cases, she said, the party had little to no time to find state candidates.
Clayton Barker, executive director for the Kansas Republican Party, said he wasn’t surprised Democrats had difficulty finding candidates and financial backers. He said Kansas’ reliably conservative tilt means Republicans have a deeper bench from which to choose, and fewer candidates equates to fewer donors.
The Democrats’ “collapse of congressional recruiting” surprised him.
“This is the first time in at least 40 years that they have no serious candidate,” Barker said.
“I think they’re maybe at a historically weak point right now.”
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka, said the Democrats’ struggles are just part of a larger challenge caused by a lack of political star power in Kansas government.
Figures such as former governors Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, as well as former Attorney General Paul Morrison, garnered a reasonable amount of popularity and favor with the general public, Beatty said. As they left the realm of Kansas politics, they took a bit of the Democrats’ influence, too.
“They haven’t recovered from that, and it’s going to be hard to,” Beatty said. “There’s no doubt it’s going to be reflected in something like fundraising.”