WICHITA, Kansas — Charles Bell usually passes on voting. He’s a Democrat in a Republican state and said, “If I vote, it’s not going to count.”
But after seeing Kansans elect a Democratic governor in 2018, he thought maybe the state was changing. And so this year, for only the second time in his 63 years, he voted, hoping Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden or U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier might be elected.
“I thought she had a chance, and she lost big,” he said a couple of days after the election. “So, I’m like, I wasted my time going down to Intrust Bank Arena.”
While Democrats made real gains in the sheer number of people voting for their party in suburban areas of Johnson and Sedgwick counties, overall results show Kansas is as red as ever.
Trump won Kansas with 56.5% of the vote. Bollier, the state senator, lost to GOP U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall by about 13 percentage points — a larger margin than what polling had indicated, especially considering the money that poured in.
Between their campaigns and outside political interest groups, they spent tens of millions of dollars on television and internet advertisements. It set a record, and shows how serious some people were about the idea that Bollier had a real shot to be the state’s first Democratic senator since 1932.
Other Democrats lost big, too: The gap in the 1st Congressional District, which covers western Kansas, was 41 percentage points. In the 2nd District, it was 14. And the GOP picked up three Kansas House seats and kept their Senate seats, thus keeping a veto-proof majority in both chambers.
“You know the votes are always the real measure of where we are in this state,” said Kansas GOP Chairman Michael Kuckelman. “When you look at the outcome Tuesday, I think there’s a very clear mandate that Kansans overall are happy with the Kansas Republican Party.”
Part of the challenge for Democrats is that despite the narrowing gap in the Kansas City and Wichita suburbs, it hasn’t translated to wins.
“Urban Kansas, which is getting bluer, is growing,” University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller said. “But it’s not happening at warp speed.”
And about those statehouse seats: Republicans will have power when it comes to redrawing political districts and a major say in any COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Plus, they’ll be able to sidestep Gov. Laura Kelly and move forward on key issues like abortion. And that has voters like McPherson Republican John Holecek very excited.
He considers himself an anti-abortion activist and hopes the Legislature will turn the election’s momentum into action on a constitutional amendment specifying lawmakers’ ability to regulate abortion.
“When they see how Kansans voted in November, they’ll be more apt to want it to pass and get it on the ballot,” he said. “And once it’s on the ballot, it will pass.”
And while this year’s results won’t be official for another few days, GOP leaders are already looking to the future. In 2022, there’s another U.S. Senate election and a chance to unseat Kelly.
“To Republicans,” Kuckelman said, “I would say that you should feel very enthusiastic about our chances of taking the governor’s office again in two years.”
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Kansas News Service reporter Celia Llopis-Jepsen contributed to this report.
Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.