What's in the Wording

by Melissa Brunner

I found last week's Survey USA poll, sponsored by KWCH-TV, interesting. In case you missed it, it showed the Republican candidates leading in all the races for statewide office - Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Treasurer. The leads weren't razor-thin, either. The closest contest, Attorney General, was a nine-point margin.

Kansas is a historically strong Republican state, but the current office holder usually gets somewhat of a boost. So what's going on with Democratic Attorney General Steve Six, Secretary of State Chris Biggs and State Treasurer Dennis McKinney? Well, the name recognition built into incumbency doesn't really come into play here. Each of these men was appointed to his position.

Perhaps Biggs has the tallest hill to climb in this arena as he faces Republican Kris Kobach. Biggs was the Geary County Attorney before narrowly losing the Attorney General's office to Phill Kline. After that, he was appointed Securities Commissioner (not exactly a high-profile position) before being named Secretary of State earlier this year when Ron Thornburgh left for the private sector. Kobach, meantime, has built up his name recognition by taking a high-profile role nationwide on the illegal immigration issue. Perhaps that's the difference we're seeing in the polls.

Six was a judge who was named to the Attorney General's position in the wake of a scandal that forced Democrat Paul Morrison out of office. Six has gained high marks for quietly restoring credibility to the office. Maybe it's the poll numbers, maybe it's not, but he's been less quiet the past couple weeks, calling news conferences to tout child porn busts and taking on the high-profile case of a Great Bend teen's murder. He finds himself chasing Republican Derek Schmidt, who is the Senate Majority Leader. Schmidt, too, is ramping up his campaign, with releases on endorsements and issues regularly finding my in-box. I think this is a race to watch - both are likable, personable people with no real lightning-rods to create controversy.

As far as the State Treasurer's race, McKinney faces the GOP's Ron Estes. I would think a lot of people would say, "Who?" Estes is vice-chair of the state GOP and was Sedgwick County's treasurer. McKinney was the House Minority leader and one of the "faces" of the Greensburg tornado, making the pitch to help his hometown in the aftermath of the tornado disaster. McKinney was appointed treasurer last January, after Lynn Jenkins was elected to Congress.

I'll admit, I was surprised to see Estes with a 21-point lead in the Survey USA poll. I was also surprised to see no more than 5 percent undecided in any of the races. What? In mid-September? While not taking anything away from the GOP slate, I wonder if part of their strong showing comes from the wording of the questions, which specifically used the name of the party before the candidates' names. For example, it wasn't Ron Estes or Dennis McKinney, it was Republican Ron Estes or Democrat Dennis McKinney. If you'd never heard of either person, you might be inclined to say "undecided." But if you knew you were more likely to vote with one party or the other, you might respond with that candidate's name. Of course, to be fair, the ballot includes the party name with the candidate as well, so the survey does mirror what you'll see when you go to vote.

What do you think? Are the current office holders doing a bad job, do they just have the wrong party affiliation or is there an anti-incumbent sentiment trickling down the ballot? I'd love to hear your take on this.





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