We covered a debate between the candidates for the state house in the 9th district (which includes Iola). Thanks to j.d., we now see that a Republican county vice-chair has endorsed the Democratic candidate, Bill Shirley.
Both candidates are clearly pretty conservative, but that’s to be expected. The last time a Democrat represented the entire area was 1913 (two others have represented part of the district when the lines were drawn differently).
The area is a microcosm of Kansas. As the Iola Register observes:
Republicans outnumber Democrats about two to one in the district. Consequently, for Shirley to unseat the incumbent he has to attract support from Republicans and voters who aren’t aligned with a political party. That’s the unvarnished truth.
Many people “vote for the person not the party,” Shirley said, particularly in a local race that pits candidates who are well-known to voters beyond their party mantles.
[The county vice-chair] Dreher isn’t the only Republican of public stature who has openly embraced Shirley’s candidacy. Tony Immel, long an Iola attorney who served in both the Kansas House and Senate as a Republican, recently wrote a letter to the Register’s Forum that encouraged support for Shirley. And Shirley signs have sprouted in Republican yards.
“No political party has a corner on virtue,” or any other character trait that voters may seek in a candidate, Shirley said.
I’m told that surveys put the race neck-and-neck. Which says something about how Kansans as a whole are re-evaluating their commitment to Republicans.
These local races are often the places where name recognition and party ID make the most difference. People know who the governor is, and have a sense of who other statewide officers are. But unless a state legislator has been egregiously bad or stunningly good, no one will hear about it, or remember come election day.
Changes in attitude like this take time. It took almost a year for people to move from being unhappy with the current administration and Congress (a shift largely driven by Katrina) to people expressing a willingness to vote for different people. The Foley scandal broke the dam, but Katrina, the ports debacle, mismanagement of Iraq, corruption, torture debates, and the host of other things that have gone wrong all set the stage.
That realignment is trickling down to the local level, but in Kansas it’s also being driven by a vicious war between moderates and conservatives, and by the excesses of the conservatives in power. Conservatives succeeded in their goal — driving off the moderates, and are suffering as a result.