Former Overland Park City Councilman Kris Kobach clinched the Republican nomination in Kansas’ 3rd district late Monday night and quickly pivoted to take the fight to Rep. Dennis Moore (D).
“People here don’t realize how liberal Dennis Moore is,” said Kobach campaign manager Todd Abrajano. “When we start to tell these folks what kind of voting record he has, they are shocked.”
Kobach faces an uphill climb to defeat Moore, who has held the Republican-leaning Kansas City-based district since 1998. Moore has been at or near the top of GOP target lists in every cycle since but has won each time.
“Time and again, election after election, Dennis Moore proves himself one of the strongest campaigners in Congress,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Greg Speed. “He has beaten stronger competition than Kris Kobach.”
Kobach’s 207-vote victory over 2002 nominee Adam Taff in the Aug. 3 GOP primary came as a surprise to most national Republicans, who had tacitly backed Taff.
Kobach painted himself as the conservative in the primary, bashing Taff for his support of abortion rights and allegedly liberal position on immigration.
On primary day, Kobach emerged with an 87-vote lead but a number of provisional ballots were outstanding in the three counties — Douglas, Wyandotte and Johnson — that make up the district.
A full count of provisional ballots, which are given to voters who have questions surrounding their eligibility, more than doubled Kobach’s original margin thanks to a 126-vote pickup in Johnson County.
Taff had until 5 p.m. today to ask for a recount but had called a press conference for 12 p.m. Central time and was expected to concede and call for Republicans to rally around Kobach.
Kobach was heavily outspent in the primary, choosing to target his limited resources on direct mail and phone banks as opposed to the extensive media campaign run by Taff.
Thanks to a $51,000 personal loan, Kobach crested the $400,000 mark for the primary, a fundraising total he must drastically improve on if he hopes to defeat the always well-financed Moore in November.
“We have shown we can defeat an opponent even if we are outspent,” said Abrajano, though he predicted that Kobach would raise “considerably more” than $1 million for the general election.
Moore ended June with $1.1 million on hand; he has spent $1.8 million and $1.9 million, respectively, in his 2000 and 2002 races.
For all of Moore’s strengths, even Democrats privately acknowledge that the demographics of the district continue to trend away from him.
The 2000 Census showed that Johnson County — the strongest Republican area in the district — grew by nearly 100,000 people during the 1990s. In contrast, Wyandotte, a Democratic stronghold, lost 4,000 people in that same time frame.
According to voter registration statistics as of July 19, there were 195,563 registered Republicans in the 3rd district’s three counties, compared to just 128,130 registered Democrats.
Abrajano pointed out that George W. Bush carried the seat in 2000 by 11 points and is expected to at least equal that margin in the fall.
“Dennis Moore is not representative of a George Bush platform,” said Abrajano.
But Moore has developed a formula for success in the 3rd despite the huge Republican registration advantage.
First, he must carry the nearly 139,000 unaffiliated voters in Douglas, Johnson and Wyandotte while also touting his moderate credentials to appeal to centrist Republicans.
Democrats familiar with the district believe that Kobach’s conservatism will again allow Moore to co-opt the ideological center and win another narrow victory.
“We are going to be talking about the issues people talk to Dennis about when he comes home every weekend,” said Moore campaign manager Julie Merz. “Kobach is not going to set the terms of the debate.”
Kobach appears comfortable running as a conservative and drawing stark contrasts with Moore.
Abrajano said that only former state Rep. Phill Kline (R) in 2000 ran a campaign “that was effective in terms of strategy and aggressiveness” against Moore.
Kline, who was elected state attorney general in 2002, ran as an unabashed conservative and Moore tagged him as the “farthest of the far right.”
Moore won that race 50 percent to 47 percent while outspending Kline by roughly $700,000.
Abrajano said that Kline’s campaign failed simply because the candidate didn’t have “the ammunition in terms of Dennis’ voting record,” a problem Kobach won’t encounter.
“Moore has moved considerably to the left,” said Abrajano. “He thinks he is safe in the seat.”