The mood was cautiously jovial at Kite’s Bar and Grill Tuesday evening among local Democrats as state Senate election results trickled in. But the crowd became more and more enthusiastic as it became clear that Democratic candidate Tom Hawk would win the race.
Hawk, a former representative from the 67th District, won 53.86 percent of the votes, or 10,715, defeating Republican Bob Reader, who got 45.97 percent, or 9,146 votes.
The announcement was made at 9:30 p.m. in the bar to loud cheers. “This is a lot better than two years ago,” Hawk told the crowd, referencing his defeat in the House at the hands of Republican Susan Mosier.
Hawk said he had received a congratulatory phone call from Reader. “I want to give him credit,” Hawk said, “because he clearly worked very hard.”
Hawk hoped his win might indicate a new course for the Kansas Senate many see as turning more conservative.
“I think we made a statement (tonight) that we need to change that direction,” Hawk said. “That we need to support schools. We need to take care of our universities. We need to take care of our infrastructure, our highways. We need to take care of our disabled.”
Hawk praised his predecessor, Roger Reitz, to applause, and said he’s ready to go to work.
The winner noted that he was outspent 5 to 1 when funds from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers are considered.
He credited his moderate positions for attracting followers, including those who did not vote for other Republicans. It appeared that about 25 percent of Riley Countians who voted for Mitt Romney for president switched sides and voted for Hawk for the Senate. In Clay County, about 20 percent of Romney voters appeared to have done the same thing.
Hawk also appeared to have won by 56-44 percent in Riley County among those who did not vote for either him or Reader in the primary. That includes Republicans who had voted for either Reitz or Joe Knopp as well as about 16,000 who did not cast a primary ballot.
Hawk said his biggest challenge in the Senate will be to address the tax cuts Gov. Brownback wrote into law earlier in the year. “I’d like to rescind them all,” he said. “We need to convince the governor he went too far.”
He mourned the loss of several moderates who were defeated in the primary and the institutional knowledge they took with them. But he said his legislative experience has made him ready to once again take office.
In a statement, Reader wished Hawk the best. He said he feels blessed for the support he received during his campaign, calling it a massive grass-roots movement made up of approximately 800 people.
Reader said the state of Kansas has some hard decisions to make in the future, regardless of who is in the House or Senate.