On Friday afternoon, State Rep. Tim Hodge, D-North Newton, surged from behind into a slight lead in the tight 72nd House District race, with about 285 provisional ballots still to be considered next week.
“We’re up by 17, and we’re pumped,” Hodge said. “I remain very, very confident,” he said.
Hodge, an attorney seeking his second term, trailed Newton Republican Steven Kelly, a retired hospital chief executive officer, by 84 votes on election night.
The 225 advance mail ballots that either were hand-delivered to a Harvey County polling site Tuesday or were postmarked by Tuesday and arrived by the deadline Friday were counted Friday afternoon. They enabled Hodge to make up the deficit and build a lead stronger than he had anticipated.
He sounded confident that more of the 280 provisional ballots cast in the 72nd in Harvey County and to be considered in the Harvey County canvass Tuesday morning will contain votes for him than for Kelly. The Harvey County Clerk's office had not determined Friday how many of the provisional ballots it will recommend for counting at the canvass.
The 72nd also includes Whitewater in Butler County. The Bulter County Clerk’s office told The News there were no post-election advance mail ballots there in the 72nd. The Butler County Clerk will recommend five of the seven sealed provisional ballots in the 72nd be opened and counted during the Butler County canvass on Thursday. Hodge doubts he will get those five votes.
The three days since the election “have been dark, but I had hope,” Hodge said.
He had walked the district during the summer and fall, encouraging people to register to vote and to apply for advance mail ballots. On election night, he visited all six polling places, he said, to learn if advance ballots had been dropped out and how many provisional ballots had been cast. He said the poll workers politely gave him the information, and “the annoyed tone of the poor poll workers that had to work a lot of people through the provisional ballot process was very encouraging to me,” Hodge said.
The spike in provisional voting in the middle of Newton where Hodge had concentrated his campaign efforts led him to conclude some voters had lost their advance mail ballot or perhaps had not received it, but decided to go to the polls on Election Day.
"’You know what, I’m going to vote, darn it.’ I’m proud of them; I’m proud of our campaign,” Hodge said.
Americans for Prosperity-Kansas and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee favored Kelly and mailers were sent. In the wake of the election and enjoying the lead, Kelly told The News that Hodge had the methodology but Kelly had the message. Voters wanted solutions to be achieved through collaborative efforts. Hodge pushed unsuccessfully for a raft of tax-related legislation that he said would help those struggling from paycheck to paycheck.
On Friday, Hodge viewed his campaign as countering the mailers.
“The power of meeting people face-to-face versus the mail - they’ve got the money, we’ve got the manpower,” Hodge said. “We just beat them with true, hard votes from normal people. If you want to win honestly and not be just some Koch brothers’ shill, you’ve to go do it,” Hodge said of door-to-door campaigning. Both the Chamber PAC and Americans for Prosperity receive Koch donations.
On Friday morning, the unofficial count for Paul Waggoner, the Hutchinson Republican nominee running in the 104th House race, was 4,984, and the write-in count for State Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, tentatively stood at 3,948.
The gap narrowed by two votes Friday afternoon but remains too large to alter the outcome by provisional ballot canvassing next week.
On Friday afternoon, Reno County counted 105 advance ballots returned after the polls closed Tuesday but by Friday, as well as 21 military or overseas ballots. The tally in the Waggoner-Becker contest is now: 5,015 to 3,981, for a 1,034-vote difference.
Remaining to be counted are the 439 unopened provisional ballots cast in various precincts in Reno County. Their fate will be determined by the Board of Canvassers, meeting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, at the Reno County Courthouse Annex, 125 W. 1st.
Hays Republican Barb Wasinger held a 40-vote lead over State Rep. Eber Phelps, D-Hays, as of 11:49 p.m. on election night.
While the needle is expected to move with the counting of additional ballots - mail and provisional - the Ellis County Clerk’s office won’t be changing the tentative tally until canvassing is conducted.
The canvass is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Thursday.