It seems unlikely that, in Kansas of all places, Democrats could pull off an upset victory in 2014. But the state's traditional GOP lean masks what party operatives regard as one of their better, if unexpected, targets as the midterm elections approach: the Kansas governor's race.
Thanks to a budget crisis and the open rebellion of the some of the party's moderate factions, its conservative governor, Sam Brownback, is unexpectedly vulnerable in his bid for a second term. Most public polling shows Democratic nominee Paul Davis slightly ahead in the early going.
And while Davis remains a clear underdog, his campaign is confident that it can defy a national political environment that's hostile to Democrats by keeping the race focused on state issues.
Perhaps a Republican loss wouldn't be that that crazy. After all, President Obama lost three states currently home to competitive Senate races — Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia — by wider margins in 2012 than he did Kansas. Kansas also isn't the only hyper-partisan state that could dump an incumbent governor in line with their views: Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie appears in danger of losing in the liberal stronghold of Hawaii.
Democrats also had some relatively recent success in 2002 and 2006, when Kathleen Sebelius won two terms as governor before moving on to head Health and Human Services. "Kansans are very open," Brownback campaign manager Mark Dugan said of Sebelius's wins. "But I don't think Kansans will elect someone as liberal as Paul Davis with his plans to raise taxes and grow the government like he wants to do."