Kansas May Be Ready to Defeat Religious Right
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Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 04:45:50 PM EST
This is a guest front pager from Diane Silver, a veteran jounalist who blogs at In This Moment: An Uncommon Blog of Hope & Politics. -- ed

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Watch what happens Nov. 7 in the attorney general's race in Kansas. The iconic red-state and home of the wildest of the Religious Right may well provide moderates and progressives with a roadmap for defeating the radical right. At issue is the fate of incumbent Republican Phill Kline -- a longtime darling of the far right. Ironically, Kline's campaign may help give moderates and progressives the key to defeating the Religious Right.

In the state's right-dominated political field made famous by Thomas Frank's "What's The Matter With Kansas," a victory by Democrat Paul Morrison could signal a real change for the state and possibly the nation.

The key to a Morrison victory? Peeling off the moderate Republicans. It's the moderates who have put the Religious Right in power, at least in Kansas. Often, moderates have voted with the radical right out of loyalty to the Republican Party -- a loyalty that is fierce in this state.  

Without moderates, though, the Religious Right doesn't have the numbers needed to win most elections, particularly in races covering an entire state.

I haven't been able to find a good count for Kansas, but national studies estimate the Religious Right as being from about 30 percent to 40 percent of the population. A recent Baylor University study, for example, put the percentage of Americans who believe in an Authoritarian God, one likely measure of leaning towards authoritarian politics, at 31.4 percent.

How does this relate to the Kline-Morrison campaign?

Moderate Republicans are fleeing from Kline at a high rate of speed. Many of them are doing so in the name of decency, citing their anger at the kind of campaign Kline is waging and at his use of his office to push the agenda of the Religious Right.

The actions of these GOP moderates is even more remarkable when judged against the long-standing political culture of the Kansas Republican Party. For decades the rule has been simple: Slash each other in the primary, but unite in the general election.

That code is still intact in the race for governor where Kansas Republicans have been generally united behind GOP candidate, Jim Barnett. Moderate members of the GOP, though, are turning their backs on Kline in very public ways.

* Former Attorney General Bob Stephan launched a  media blitz in mid October, contacting reporters to give them the details of Kline's plan to raise campaign funds by touring churches. At least some of the information Stephan provided pointed to what some folks are calling "money laundering," in which churches gave "love offerings" to a company owned by Kline and his wife. That company has donated money to the Kline campaign. Stephan discovered the practice while working for Kline as a special assistant.

Stephan resigned from that job, and then three weeks later spilled the church fundraising details to the mainstream media. Stephan told reporters that he decided to work for Kline because "I was a good Republican." However, when he learned the details of the fundraising and then Kline's campaign staff refused to answer his questions, Stephan said he decided: "Forget it, I'm off the train."

* Former Attorney General Carla Stovall, Kline's immediate predecessor, appeared at a press conference three days later to angrily denounce Kline and to endorse Morrison. Remember, Stovall is a Republican. Stovall called Kline's campaign tactics "despicable" and his tenure as attorney general horrible. Kline had violated the "sacred trust" of the office, Stovall said.

*A retired legislative leader who happens to share Kline's name (This one is Phil with one "L.") endorsed Morrison, saying that his "character and proven legal experience" make him the best choice.

Meanwhile, other moderate Republicans are struggling with their party loyalties as John Hanna of the AP noted today. At least some legislative leaders, for example, are disgusted by Kline's campaign tactics, which include attempting to smear Morrison with unproven sexual harassment allegations and misleading ads.

Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, chairman of his chamber's budget committee, told Hanna:

"I don't think this belonged anywhere in this political process."

The latest poll taken about two weeks ago shows Morrison with a 13 point lead over Kline, but the last few weeks have been tough ones for the Democrat. Kline's smear campaign has been relentless. At this point, it's impossible to tell what will happen. All we can do is wait and watch.


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