Moderate Republicans have come under attack in primaries across the country this year, but the split in the GOP is perhaps older and sharper in Kansas — and it comes to a head Tuesday.
"I think the lines have been drawn in the sand. Bridges have been burned. Everybody is all-in this election," says Jim Denning, one of the conservative candidates for the state's senate.
The Republican statehouse primary is a savage fight fueled by money from the Koch brothers and labor unions, with big consequences for the citizens of Kansas.
When it comes to the political map, Kansas isn't just red, it's a stoplight. It's molten lava. Republicans hold every congressional seat, all the big statewide offices and both chambers of the legislature. But despite their lock on power, Kansas Republicans don't generally get along.
"We are our own worst enemy," says Tim Owens, who is a state senator – and struggling to stay that way.
Owens is waging one of the toughest campaigns in a 30-year political career. Today he's dispensing yard signs at a strip mall in his prosperous suburban Kansas City district — and examining some of the mail bombarding his constituents. One reads, "Obama sought a robot, and found one."
"And they've got Obama and me, which is absolutely ridiculous," Owen scoffs.
Owens is a life-long Republican, so this is pretty scandalous stuff, and it's coming from his own party.
"The conservative element today is a far cry from what the conservative was when I was growing up," he says. "It's angry. It's hateful."
Frustrated by their inability to achieve some policy goals, conservatives in Republican states are turning against moderate members of their own party, trying to drive them out of state legislatures to clear the way for reshaping government across a wide swath of mid-America controlled by the GOP.
Political groups are helping finance the efforts by supporting primary election challenges targeting several dozen moderate Republicans in the Midwest and South, especially prominent lawmakers who run key state committees.
Two years after Republicans swept into power in many state capitols, the challengers say it's time to adopt more conservative policies.
"If you don't believe in that playbook, then why are you on the team?" declared Greg Smith, a Kansas state representative who's running for the state Senate, with the goal of making it more conservative.
The push is most intense in Kansas, where conservatives are attempting to replace a dozen moderate Republican senators who bucked new Gov Sam Brownback's move to slash state income taxes...
...The conflict in Kansas is heading toward a showdown in the Aug. 7 primary. Conservatives want to oust Senate President Steve Morris, Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler and the leaders of most of the important committees in the state Senate, which acted as a check on Brownback's move to make Kansas a laboratory of conservative fiscal and social policy.
"It is all about taking over the state in a conservative vein and eliminating as much as possible anybody who didn't agree with their philosophical ideas," said moderate GOP incumbent Sen Tim Owens, one of the targets.
His opponent, conservative freshman state Rep Jim Denning, said Owens has "lost his edge to lead, to negotiate, to stick to just Republican principles".
The governor is taking the unusual step of formally endorsing some challengers because the moderates, in resisting his proposals, "promote a Democrat agenda", he said.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce raised US$163,000 for the effort last year - a significant sum in a less populous state like Kansas - with more than US$36,000 coming from Koch Industries Inc., the company led by Charles Koch, a prominent political donor...
...conservatives hope to win enough races to spur the legislature to restrict how labor unions raise campaign money, to remake the state's appellate courts and to enact more conservative social policy.
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