Kansas Governor Sam Brownback easily rode to victory four years ago, vowing to implement a Kansas-style “experiment” that included drastically lowering taxes.
Now voters are tasked with rendering a judgment on Brownback and his economic policies as he seeks reelection – and the grades thus far have been decidedly mixed.
That's why Kansas is one of the states NBC News will visit as part of our Meet the Voters bus tour.
With the help of a Republican-led legislature. Brownback implemented steep tax cuts for individuals and eliminated taxes for small business owners. He pledged that the dramatic cuts would spur economic growth. Instead, the state has seen cuts to education and other public services, a budget deficit and weak job growth.
Brownback, whose political career was boosted when he was appointed to the Senate to fill the seat Bob Dole left in 1996 to run for president, is not shying from his controversial agenda but insisting that it simply needs more time to institute economic growth.
“Sam Browback has cut taxes; that’s why I want Sam as governor,” a woman shown paying her bills says in a Brownback-sponsored television ad.
But Brownback’s aggressive agenda has even caused some fellow Republicans to squirm, deepening the divide between moderate and conservative Republicans in the reliably red state.
Some Kansas Republicans dislike Brownback’s policies so much they formed official groups, including Republicans for Kansas Values led by former Senate President Dick Bond, to back Brownback’s challenger, Paul Davis.
While Davis is positioning himself as a moderate and has run a solid campaign, the race is more of a referendum of Brownback than approval of the Kansas House Democratic Leader who represents the college town of Lawrence.
Appropriately, Davis has centered his campaign on Brownback’s “experiment.” In a campaign ad, Davis highlighted Brownback’s “historic cut to education, slow job growth and three credit downgrades in one year.”
Brownback is attempting to tie Davis to unpopular President Barack Obama who has an approval rating in the high 30s, hoping that Obama’s policies are more unpopular than his own.
In the red state of Kansas, which boasts no Democrats serving in the U.S. House or Senate and a Republican-led legislature, Cook Political Report rates the gubernatorial race a tossup. Real Clear Politics polling average shows that Brownback has regained some footing after a rocky few months but gives him only slight advantage.
While Republicans dominate Kansas politics, Democrats are not rare breeds in the governor’s mansion. Before working in President Barack Obama’s cabinet, Kathleen Sebelius was governor of the state.
The X factor of this race is third party candidate Keen Umbehr, who is running as an Libertarian. He polling anywhere from 2 – 4% - even higher in late summer polls, which, in a close race, could influence the outcome.
With no Democrat running in the hotly contested Senate race, the Kansas Democratic Party has been able to focus its resources and money on the governor’s race, giving Davis an extra boost.
Brownback has received help from the Republican Governors Association. Its head, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has campaigned with Brownback.
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