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SPOTLIGHT
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Another road map to success?

Published on -8/19/2014, 10:05 AM

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Remember those stories that start with the "a guy walks into a bar with a duck under his arm?"

That idea can go a bunch of ways, and if you buy the premise (that duck under his arm), you'll enjoy the story.

Well, selling an idea worked for now-Gov. Sam Brownback four years ago. He had a road map for Kansas, and the campaign based on that premise got him elected over meagerly financed Democrat State Sens. Tom Holland and runningmate Kelly Kultala.

His initial road map? It essentially was platitudes: Lower taxes, more jobs, third-graders who read better and there might have been something in there about losing weight and having more good hair days. Everyone was for it. Yes, even Democrats looked at all the stuff Brownback proposed and liked the premise, though there were some among the voters who kept saying, "Where is that duck?"

That same strategy apparently is on the road again with Brownback's Road Map 2.0 -- which so far is being released in pieces, and ought to be all wrapped up by the time Brownback and his Democratic challenger House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence meet at the state fair in Hutchinson for a public debate.

Davis? No road map, or real platform yet, but he's still capitalizing on the severe budget crunch the first road map created, the sharp cut in revenues that have squeezed budgets and threaten even more cuts in services to Kansans unless those massive tax cuts suddenly spur new spending and a flood of new non-income tax revenues to the state's coffers as Brownback is hoping. Worth remembering, of course, is the tax portion of that road map was dramatically changed by the Legislature -- but Brownback signed the bill anyway.

But mostly, in small groups and through a massive social media campaign so far (not much in the way of TV ads), Davis has been telling Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans there is no duck, and not to fall for the same general, if updated, campaign again.

It's uphill for Davis, of course, there being fewer Democrats than Republicans in Kansas, and though recent polls put Davis ahead this early in the campaign, his key will be to pare off moderate Republicans, warning them the first road map caused the fiscal problem we're in now and pointing out the chance of the second edition working is slim.

That's why the new Brownback road map is predicted to be centrist and soft-focus, to provide little traction for Davis' campaign. Look for pleasantries, goals everyone can support, and no rear-view mirror because Davis is going to spend much of his time telling Kansans the first map was off-course.

Interesting to watch to see whether the very conservative tea party-infused Republicans will stay under Brownback's arm and whether he can keep a grip on them as he works to attract the moderates he'll need to make his story work the way he's hoping.

Historically, Republican primary elections tilted to the right, and then the candidates pulled toward the center for the general election, and this is the first time there is real doubt the technique will work.

For Davis? This is probably the first chance a prime voting bloc for the Democratic nominee will be those centrist Republican voters who this election cycle genuinely are up for grabs. He'll have to vow under his administration they'll see repairs made to the budget and increased emphasis on financing education and public services as painlessly as possible. Delay scheduled further tax cuts? Is that a tax increase if nobody's received those cuts yet, or is it just a slowdown until the state's economy -- and budget the governor proposes -- strengthens?

This election cycle has a different feel than in the past, and so far, the ducks still are in the air, not strong enough to open the bar door themselves but not sure who they want to carry them in.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co.

of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.

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