For decades, Democrats have be pretty sparse in the 40-member Kansas Senate, but this year, they seem positioned to make considerable gains in what is still a Republican leaning state.
With just 11 Democrats in the Kansas Senate, it’s been pretty difficult to push legislation through. While the Dems hope to make gains this election, they don’t expect to “flip” the Senate, but they feel comfortable they’ll gain enough seats to keep the Republicans from overturning any veto made by Gov. Laura Kelly.
It takes two-thirds of the Senate or 14 votes to overturn the governor’s veto. So, with just a gain of three seats, the Democrats can assure they have the governor’s back.
While others aren’t quite as optimistic, KS Sen. David Haley sees about seven seats that could potentially go blue. If the Dems pick up all of those seats, that would put them at 18 seats, which is still short of a majority. However, in combination with a few moderate Republicans, the Dems might be able to pull together a majority on a few issues.
The problem with that scenario, says Kerry Gooch, Chief of Staff for Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, is that most of the moderate Republicans lost in their primary to conservatives.
What is encouraging, says Gooch, is that Gov. Laura Kelly won all of the districts the Democrats hope to flip.
“If you voted for a Democrat for governor, it’s not that far of a stretch for you to vote for a Democrat for the Senate,” says Gooch.
Here are the seats with the most potential for going blue.
District 8 Cindy Holscher, the Democrat, is a current State House member, running for the Senate Seat being vacated by Jim Denning, who decided not to seek reelection. She’s running against James Todd, who was in the State House, but lost that last two times in a row to a Democrat.
District 9 Stacy Knoell, an African-American woman, is the Democratic candidate for this open seat. Julia Lynn, the incumbent, decided not to run and pulled out of the election less than two months ago. The Republican Committee members selected Beverly Gossage to replace Lynn on the ballot. Gossage previously ran for Kansas Insurance Commissioner but lost in the primary.
District 10 Lindsey Constance, is the Democrat candidate in yet another “technically” open race. The incumbent Mary Pilcher Cook stepped down in February and was replaced by Mike Thompson, a retired KC-area television weatherman. Constance is a current Shawnee City councilmember and teacher.
District 11 Joy Koesten, the Democrat, used to be a Republican member in the Kansas House. She was basically pushed out of the State House after she endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor over Republican Kris Kobach. Now, she’s back running as a Democrat for the Senate against conservative Republican Kelly Warren. This became an open race after Warren beat the incumbent John Strubble in the primary.
District 5 Jeff Pittman is the Democrat running for this seat that is partially in Leavenworth and Wyandotte Counties. Pitman is a current house member running for the Senate. This is another open seat. The incumbent resigned. Kevin Braun, the Republican, ran for the State House twice before and lost both times.
District 28 Jim Ward, the Democrat, is the long term member of the Kansas House. He’s taking on incumbent Mike Peterson in this District that covers a large part of Southeast Wichita. The Democrats have come close to winning this seat in the past. With Ward, a strong candidate, they could make it to the finish line this time
District 29 Melissa Gregory, is the Democrat in this open race. Incumbent Susan Wagle, the former Majority Leader of the Senate, is not seeking reelection. She’s running against Renee Erickson, a current member of the Kansas House. Gregory is the former Chief of Staff for former Congressman Dan Glickman and also worked on the leadership team for both Govs. Laura Kelly and Kathleen Sebelius.
District 20 Rachel Willis, the Democrat is a non-profit executive. This is another open race. The incumbent Erick Rucker, lost to Brenda Dietrich, a conservative Republican, in the primary.
It helps that most of these races are for empty seats, says Gooch. “It’s also good that we have strong candidates, who’ve been able to raise a lot of money to help get their message out.”
He also says the future looks good for Democrats in Johnson County.
“Johnson is going blue,” says Gooch. “It’s going to happen, it’s a question of when. These suburban voters aren’t going to vote for Donald Trump, and they’re going to vote for Barbara Bollier. They’re not the Republicans they used to be.”