When a three-judge federal panel redrew boundaries for the state’s congressional and legislative districts, they also scrambled the political composition of those districts. In at least one area case, those changes appear to have materially altered the voter demographics in a way that might affect the race’s outcome.
Voters in the newly constructed 22nd State Senate district supported Republican presidential nominee John McCain by five percentage points more than did those in the former 22nd Senate district. Voters in the new district, largely comprised of Riley and Clay Counties, backed McCain by 56.4 percent against just 42 percent for President Barack Obama. Voters in the former 22nd Senate District, essentially parts of Manhattan and Junction City, also supported McCain in 2008, but by just 51.7 to 46.7 percent.
The change appears to be driven by the shift of largely Democratic Junction City voters out of the district and their replacement by largely Republican voters from Clay and northern Riley Counties. Those Republican gains are only partly offset by the inclusion of less-Republican precincts in the Northview area of Manhattan. All the areas brought into the 22nd District were formerly parts of Sen. Mark Taddiken’s cannibalized 21st District.
The impact of judicial redistricting in the Senate district is more substantial than in any of the area House districts. The new 66th House District, which will feature a reprise of the 2010 contest between Democratic incumbent Sydney Carlin and Republican Lee Modesitt, went for Obama by 52.3 percent to 45.7 percent in 2008, making it about 1.6 percentage points more Democratic than the old 66th District. The new 67th District, where Republican Tom Phillips will stand for election against Democrat Aaron Estabrook, favored McCain by 55.6 to 42.9 percent in 2008, virtually the same margin as the former 67th District.
The four candidates seeking the 22nd District seat are Republican incumbent Sen. Roger Reitz, former House Majority Leader Joe Knopp and Bob Reader, along with Democratic former House member Tom Hawk. All of them indicated they had begun refocusing campaign efforts away from Geary County and toward Clay County, where until the new boundaries were released none expected that they would need to build an organization.
“It’s an interesting situation, remarked Knopp, who said he had “spent the last week tying to get up to Clay County as often as I can.”
Clay County cast only about 4,000 ballots in the 2008 presidential election, but those 4,000 went three-to-one for McCain. You can add to that another 2,500 voters from northern Riley County who went 70 percent for McCain, then subtract a smaller number of Junction City voters who split their 2008 ballots almost 50-50. Northview residents who were brought into the district, also split their 2008 presidential ballots.
In Kansas politics, of course, the split between GOP moderates and conservatives means it’s never as simple as just counting party affiliation. That’s especially the case in a primary featuring one of the Senate’s leading moderates (Reitz), an avowed conservative (Reader) and a well-known, veteran politician who wears neither label (Knopp).
Reitz thinks things are trending his way, not just in Clay County but statewide. “There is a definite feeling that the conservative movement may have reached its peak,” he said. Not surprisingly, Reader couldn’t disagree more. “Having walked much of Clay County already, it is clear that we have much in common,” he said, citing extended family members, businesses and church colleagues. “The voters of this district believe in smaller government, low taxes and fewer regulations, although not at the cost of an inadequate education” he asserted. “By and large, they also lean pro-life and believe in one-man, one-woman marriage.”
Those involved in Clay County politics point to two people as potential mobilizing forces there. The two are Taddiken, who retired just before release of the new Senate map, and Kyle Bauer, owner of KCLY, the county’s principal radio station. “His support will be important,” Reitz acknowledge of Taddiken, who was an office mate as well as a Senate colleague, but who also could usually be counted reliably in the conservative camp. Taddiken has not taken a position in the primary race.
Bauer said all of the Republican candidates enter the primary as “a clean slate,” but also believes there are significant linkages between the counties two principal cities that offset any perceived differences. To a degree, he said, Clay Center is a “bedroom community” for Manhattan. “Clay Center has started to realize that what is good for Manhattan is good for Clay Center,” he said, describing the judges’ decision to link the two communities politically as a natural fit.
It is also at least theoretically possible that the stronger Republican majority could eventually benefit the Democratic nominee, Hawk. Knopp believes that would be the case if either of the candidates more closely identified with the party’s wings emerges from the GOP primary, driving disaffected Republicans away. “It all depends on who the Republicans nominate,” he said. “If the nominee is Bob or Roger, Tom’s stock goes up.”
Reitz isn’t buying Knopp’s analysis in its particulars, but he acknowledges that in-party politics will be crucial in a Senate where control rested on a 21-19 margin last year. “It’s all about getting that 21st vote,” he said.
Hawk thinks his November chances will be enhanced if the Republicans dump Reitz because that would alienate GOP moderates. “Many of my Republican friends have reported being uneasy with the direction of the conservative legislature and governor,” he said, citing expectations of a projected $2 billion debt in the next four years and concerns over impacts on public education.