Kansas GOP Race Highlight Of 3 State Primaries : It's All Politics The big primary to watch today is the Republican contest for the Senate in Kansas, where two members of the House, Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt, are battling to succeed Sam Brownback.  Brownback is leaving the Senate to run for governor.
NPR logo Moran-Tiahrt GOP Contest In Kansas Is Highlight Of 3 State Primaries Today

Moran-Tiahrt GOP Contest In Kansas Is Highlight Of 3 State Primaries Today

Three states are holding primaries today, but the highlight is the Republican contest in Kansas for the Senate seat being vacated by Sam Brownback, who is leaving to run for governor.

I'll have separate posts on Michigan and Missouri momentarily.  But, for now, here's what's at stake in the Sunflower State.

Open Senate seats don't come around much in Kansas, so that may explain why two sitting members of the House, Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt, have jumped in the GOP contest.  And in Kansas, the name of the game is the Republican primary; no Democrat has won a Senate race there since 1932, the nation's longest drought (or, from the GOP perspective, the longest winning streak).  That streak will continue this year.

Moran and Tiahrt both have conservative voting records, even though Tiahrt is considered more to the right on social issues; in 2008, the American Conservative Union gave Moran a 92 percent rating and Tiahrt 91 percent.  Their seniority is also about the same; Tiahrt, 59, was first elected in 1994, when he defeated Democratic incumbent Dan Glickman.  Moran, 56, arrived two years later, when Rep. Pat Roberts (R) gave up his House seat to run for the Senate seat vacated by Nancy Landon Kassebaum.

But stylistically they are quite different.  CQ's Politics In America describes Moran as someone who "eschews political posturing in favor of pragmatism, often bucking his own party on major initiatives.  And it's paid off -- at the polls he has enjoyed some of the largest victory margins of any GOP House member."  Tiahrt (pronounced TEE-art) is described in the same book as a "fiscal and social conservative whose religious convictions strongly influence his political views.  His insistence on pursuing his agenda has sometimes put him at odds with Republican leaders, and he has been thwarted in his efforts to join the GOP's leadership ranks."

Also, if you're keeping score at home, Tiahrt has the backing of Sarah Palin and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), while Moran has been endorsed by Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican senator who has been a would-be power broker in this election cycle, as well as Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.).  Anti-abortion groups have mostly sided with Tiahrt.  And former Kansas City Royal baseball great George Brett, who lives in Kansas, supports Moran.

Moran has raised the most money.

But given what's at stake in the primary, the contest has become contentious and nasty.  Tiahrt has accused Moran of being a fan of higher taxes, while Moran has hit Tiahrt for his support of earmarks.  Both are questioning the conservative credentials of the other.

Here's one ad that argues Moran is not a "real Republican":

Moran responded with this ad:

Kansas City Star's Steve Kraske & Dave Helling, writing in the Star's Prime Buzz blog, notes that the latest Survey USA/KWCH poll had Moran up by ten, but "we think it's closer than that."  And if the race is not a "complete blowout," they say that there may not be a declared winner until 10 p.m. Central time.  They suggest we watch Sedgwick County, which encompasses Wichita, where Tiahrt "needs to do very well."  And if Moran stumbles in the huge First Congressional District, "say, with less than 60% of the vote, he could be in trouble."

Four Democrats are seeking their party's nomination: state Sen. David Haley, Baker University assistant dean Lisa Johnston, former newspaper editor Charles Schollenberger and Bob Conroy.

Democrats may have long been shut out of Kansas Senate races but they have had far better success in the gubernatorial contests.  Kathleen Sebelius, taking advantage of an ideological split in the GOP, was elected governor in 2002 and 2006.  But she left last year to join the Obama Cabinet, and her number two, Mark Parkinson -- himself a former Republican -- has decided not to fight for the job this year.  Brownback is a strong favorite to win it back for the GOP.  The likely Democratic nominee is state Sen. Tom Holland.

Polls close at 7 p.m. Central time.