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D.C.'s Polarization Trickles Down to State Capitals

What's the matter with Kansas? The state is deeply polarized even though it's solidly Republican.
Protesters stand outside a campaign rally for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback Monday, July 14, 2014, in Olathe, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)Charlie Riedel / AP

The political world today turns its attention to Kansas, where the latest GOP establishment-vs.-Tea Party primary takes place between Sen. Pat Roberts (Mr. Establishment) and Milton Wolf (Mr. Tea Party who happens to be President Obama’s distant cousin). But the real political story in Kansas this year isn’t this primary -- instead, it’s how polarized the state has become during Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) tenure. And polarization explains why Brownback is so vulnerable this fall, despite the state’s GOP-leaning nature. “Elected three years ago as a leading conservative voice for making state government more business-friendly, Brownback has rolled over his opponents in Kansas to pass tax and spending cuts that seemed to pave a smooth path to a second term,” the AP wrote earlier this year. But: “The state’s bond rating recently was downgraded over concerns the state would have to burn through its rainy day funds to make up for revenues lost to his tax cuts. Angry teachers have staged demonstrations at his public appearances and charged that his fiscal experiment will short schools and lead to crowded classrooms.” Polarization isn’t just happening in Washington; it’s also in state capitals across the country -- in Wisconsin (think of those recalls and Scott Walker’s re-election bid this year), in Florida (where both Rick Scott and Charlie Crist have upside-down fav/unfav ratings), and now even in Kansas.

The danger of one-party control

There was a time when the states and governors were the ones working across the aisle, getting things done. But state capitals have become more nationalized and polarized, so now the LAST bastion of bipartisan work is taking place in cities and counties. The states should no longer be viewed unilaterally as the “better than Washington” ideal. Basically, many state capitals have become “Washington-ized.” Brownback’s troubles also are a reminder that in one-party states like Kansas, political parties can only hold them so long before ideological cracks start to form. In addition, governors -- at the least -- are supposed to be unifiers of their party. And when they aren’t, that’s when political trouble happens.

Primary Day!

As we previewed on Monday, four states are holding primaries today: the aforementioned Kansas, where Roberts is facing off against Wolf; Michigan, where there are a slew of congressional contests; Missouri; and Washington state. In the Roberts-vs.-Wolf race, analysts expect that the incumbent Roberts will win. But as we discovered with Eric Cantor’s primary defeat -- and then Sen. Thad Cochran’s surprise runoff victory -- anything can happen in low-turnout primaries in the summer. Politico is calling the contest the “Tea Party’s last shot.” As for Michigan’s congressional primaries, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) is getting a serious challenge and is likely to lose. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a Tea Party favorite, also is receiving a primary challenge. And think about this: With the retirements by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-MI), and Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI), who’s running for the Senate), Michigan is losing is three committee chairs (Levin, Camp, Rogers) and nearly 140 years of combined seniority on Capitol Hill. That isn’t good news for Detroit as it tries to solve its financial woes with the help of the federal government.

NBC/WSJ Poll Day!

And it’s not just Primary Day; it’s also NBC/WSJ poll day. At 6:30 pm ET, we’ll be releasing our full poll, which is chock full of data about American’s perceptions of the economy and their economic security (or insecurity). Have the improving economic numbers changed attitudes about the economy? Or do they remain unchanged? What about President Obama’s and Congress’ standing? Tune in -- or click on -- at 6:30 pm ET for the results.

A Tale of Two States on Immigration (and a Tale of Two House Republicans Looking for Senate Promotion)

We mentioned this briefly on Monday, but it bears repeating: The immigration issue is playing out -- politically -- different ways in different states. In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton (R) is airing this tough TV ad on immigration against Sen. Mark Pryor (D). “Sen. Mark Pryor voted for amnesty, citizenship for illegals,” the ad goes. “Pryor voted against a border fence three times. And now? Pryor ignores the crisis.” But in Colorado, Rep. Cory Gardner (R) voted AGAINST the measure to reverse President Obama’s deferred action on DREAMers. The big difference between the two states? In Arkansas, just 7% of residents are Latinos; in Colorado, it’s triple that -- 21%.

Dems catch a big break in Colorado

Speaking of Colorado… Democrats caught a pretty big break in state -- Colorado won’t have competing fracking ballot initiatives, which were dividing environmentalists and pro-business Democrats (and thus weren’t good news for Mark Udall and John Hickenlooper). The Denver Post: “Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday unveiled a delicately balanced compromise on local control of oil and gas drilling that will remove all the initiatives on the issue from the November ballot. The ballot battle was shaping up to be the most expensive campaign in the state's history. U.S. Rep Jared Polis, D-Boulder, agreed to drop two measures he supported aimed at requiring drilling rigs to be set back 2,000 feet from homes and bolstering local control by adding an environmental bill of rights to the state constitution. Backers of two industry-supported measures — Initiative 121, which would have withheld state oil and gas revenue from communities banning drilling, and Initiative 137, which required a fiscal impact note for all initiatives — said they, too, would pull back.”

DREAMers confront Steve King

Finally, as NBC’s Alex Moe reports, Sen. Rand Paul attended a fundraiser for Rep. Steve King in Iowa yesterday. And two DREAMers confronted King over the House GOP’s vote to rollback Obama’s executive action on DREAMers. Watch the video.

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