Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), one of America’s most tea party governors, has suddenly found himself in serious danger of not winning re-election. If he does lose, he’ll have House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D) to thank.
Davis, a lawyer by trade who served as leader of the Kansas House Democrats in 2008, is one of a few candidates that Democrats are hoping will what might at first seem like the unthinkable: defeat a deeply conservative Republican in deep red Kansas. Davis’s approach is to angle himself as the most moderate of moderates and take advantage of deep dissatisfaction Kansans feel toward the conservative Brownback.
Davis (pictured), in an interview with TPM, was quick to attack Brownback’s push to cut taxes (which has landed Kansas in a bad budget situation) as well as make cuts to public education funding. He’s less eager to discuss the other statewide race where Democrats feel they have a good chance of ousting a Republican: the race for Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R-KS) Senate seat. When pressed, Davis did criticize Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) for refusing to fulfill Democrat Chad Taylor’s wish to be removed from the Nov. 4 ballot (Democrats want Taylor off the ballot and Independent Greg Orman to stay on).
“I’ll say this: He’s probably the most political person to ever occupy the secretary of state’s office and he has a very strong political bent to him,” Davis said. “I don’t know why he made the decision that he made. I think clearly Chad Taylor wanted off the ballot and thought that he had met the requirements to do that but we’ll have to let the court system sort this out.”
That’s about as far as Davis would wade into the Senate race, even as Kobach himself seems to be in re-election trouble setting Democrats up for a potential trio of major election wins in the state.
“I don’t have any plans to make any other endorsements in any other races,” Davis said. “I just think when you’re on the ballot you just need to focus in the race you’ve got rather than getting involved in other races.”
Davis is far more eager to highlight working with Republicans and Republican support. Perhaps one of the biggest coups his campaign received and which has allowed him to really underscore his claim that he’s got bipartisan support came when 100 former Republican officials and lawmakers endorsed his candidacy over Brownback. A major gripe among these GOPers was Brownback’s tax cuts, which, they argued, went too deep. That type of dissatisfaction is something Davis has been trying to capitalize on to win over voters. At first, Davis said, many voters are just so turned off with Brownback that they’re willing to at least consider another candidate, in this case him.
“They know that I’m a moderate, I’m someone who’s got a very long track record of working with Republicans,” Davis said. “Where someone may start out as protest voters they’re clearly becoming very comfortable in supporting me.”
As far back as June, Davis has had a single-digit lead over Brownback and Libertarian candidate Keen Umbehr. A SurveyUSA poll in early September found Davis leading Brownback 47 percent to 40 percent with 5 percent. TPM’s Polltracker gives Davis a 6-point lead over Brownback.
Staying on good terms with Republicans is a must for Davis; even if Democrats were able to throw out Brownback, Roberts, and Kobach, he still has to work with the Republican-dominated state legislature. While in office, Brownback passed a bill that stops the Kansas governor from expanding Medicaid, something Davis would like to do in the same way that Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) got his state to establish the very successful kynect healthcare exchange. But to do that, he’d have to get the legislature on board, which is a tough challenge.
“It’s a very important issue and it’s one that I think the legislature needs to be part of — be part of that discussion and give approval for whatever direction the state decides to go,” Davis said.