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Kansas GOP's right seeks dominance in Legislature


AP Political Writer

TOPEKA -- Gov. Sam Brownback's allies sought to emerge from Tuesday's election with conservative Republicans dominant in the Kansas Legislature so that he'll have a free hand to remake his state.

Democrats' hopes for picking up seats in the state Senate and House rested on voters seeing legislative races as a referendum on massive income tax cuts signed into law by Brownback this year. Democrats portrayed those cuts as reckless and likely to force the state to slash spending on public schools and social services.

Conservatives hoped discontent with President Barack Obama and the federal health care overhaul he championed would taint his fellow Democrats down the ballot in a GOP-leaning state, as it did in 2010.

Republicans went into the election with majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House, but even with those numbers, Brownback had faced resistance to parts of his agenda. While conservatives had a solid majority in the House, GOP moderates -- working with minority Democrats -- could check him in the Senate.

Abortion foes, the tea party movement, the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the anti-tax, small government group Americans for Prosperity helped ensure that the crop of GOP candidates emerging from primaries would lean strongly to the right. Conservatives wanted to lock in a two-thirds majority in the Senate -- 27 of 40 seats -- to allow them to pursue proposed changes in the state constitution on issues such as health care and remaking the courts.

If Democrats made gains in the Senate or both chambers, they and the remaining moderates might be able to slow a further push to the right. They made the income tax cuts their major issue.

Supporters argued that the cuts will stimulate the economy, but Democrats noted that legislative researchers project that the reductions will produce collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion over the next six years.

Most key Senate races were in northeast Kansas. Two involved incumbent Democrats from Topeka, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and Sen. Laura Kelly, her party's ranking member on the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Republicans also were hoping to oust the two state senators who formed the Democratic ticket against Brownback two years ago, Baldwin City's Tom Holland, who ran unsuccessfully for governor, and Kansas City's Kelly Kultala, who lost the lieutenant governor's race in 2010.

Democrats' best bet for picking up a seat was in a district mostly in their stronghold in Wyandotte County. Sen. Chris Steineger of Kansas City was seeking re-election as a Republican, having switched parties after losing the Democratic primary for secretary of state in 2010. He faces former Democratic state Rep. Pat Pettey, also from Kansas City.