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SPOTLIGHT
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A ringing endorsement?

Published on -10/2/2012, 9:28 AM

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With just more than a month before the elections, one moderate Republican state senator has jumped the shark and endorsed the Democratic candidate against the Republican who thumped him in the GOP primary.

The senator? Three-term Republican Pete Brungardt of Salina, who after being tromped substantially by conservative Rep. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, 55 percent to 45 percent, endorsed the Democratic candidate in Senate District 24, Salina lawyer and community activist Janice Norlin.

Oh, there's a little history here. Four years ago, in the Republican primary election in the same district, Brungardt defeated Arpke by 208 votes, which pencils out to a 51.3 percent to 48.6 percent win by Brungardt. This year's tally: 5,413 Arpke, 4,354 Brungardt. During the four years of Brungardt's last term, he picked up 334 GOP primary voters, Arpke 1,601.

Brungardt's endorsement was the first of the general election campaign in which a defeated moderate Republican has endorsed the Democratic challenger to his conservative primary opponent.

Brungardt was targeted for defeat for a fourth term by Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and Arpke -- who defeated moderate Rep. Deena Horst, R-Salina, in the 2010 House District 69 primary and went on to win the general -- was their choice in the 2012 GOP Senate primary.

But the real question will be whether Brungardt will be the first -- or the only -- defeated moderate Republican to endorse a Democrat in the general election, and ultimately, if that endorsement pays off for Norlin.

Senate District 24 voter registration is 48.7 percent Republican, 21 percent Democratic and 29 percent unaffiliated. Four years ago, at the general election, Brungardt walked off with 66.7 percent of the vote, and presumably, most of Arpke's Republican voter base either voted for Brungardt or took a long lunch and didn't bother to check the box in the Senate race. Odds are low Arpke's people voted for Democrat Abner Perney, Salina, at the 2008 general election.

So, what does the endorsement mean? It's going to be tricky to figure out. If Election Day dawns in a hailstorm or blizzard, everything is up to whose car will start or who will run the insurance hurdles to get their car dents pounded out if they drive in to vote.

But, there might be an effect here. Brungardt apparently was right-sized and right politically for the district for 12 years, and if voters there trusted his judgment enough to keep electing him until he vested in the state pension system, they apparently have some regard for his assessment of who most accurately will represent the citizens and interests of the district.

There were approximately 1,900 fewer voters in the 2008 primary than there were this year -- but that was before the kettle started whistling for the TEA Party and when there wasn't a massive "oust the incumbent" effort.

Do endorsements make a difference? Figure there is a handful of moderate Senate Republicans who are cleaning out their desks now who are wondering.

Because ... chances are good they're not risking a Cabinet appointment if they jump the shark.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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