Wednesday, November 17, 2010

GOP Reclaims Johnson County

Any notion that Johnson County is trending Democratic has been refuted by this month's election results. Conventional wisdom held that Kansas City's most populous suburban county - highly-educated, highly-mobile, wealthy, and densely-populated Johnson County - was moving from a Republican bastion to ripe territory for future Democratic gains. Recent history seemed to confirm this, as Sebelius won the county in her gubernatorial re-election in 2006 and Democrat Paul Morrison also won in the same year as Democrats picked up 3 house seats, giving them a record 6 statehouse seats out of 22 from Johnson County.

Yet those gains were shattered on Tuesday, Nov. 2nd 2010 when Johnson County swung to the right in dramatic fashion, taking on a dark crimson hue. All Republicans running statewide won the county with 60 percent or more of the vote (Jerry Moran led the way, garnering 66 percent of the vote in Johnson County - a substantial increase over now fellow Sen. Pat Roberts' 57 percent in 2008). For the first time in eight years, a Republican congressional nominee won the county, and five of the six Democratic state legislators were defeated, leaving one lone Democrat (Mike Slattery - Mission) in Johnson County's 22 member statehouse delegation.

Key to this lopsided, landslide victory was the incredible turnaround in the northeast part of the county, a moderate stronghold that has veered to the left in recent elections. Jerry Moran won EVERY municipality in the northeast of the county, including the most liberal-leaning cities of Mission, Roeland Park, and Westwood (which straddles stateline and barely lies within the county). Additionally, Kevin Yoder also won the northeast region successfully, taking every city except for Westwood and Westwood Hills.

It should also be noted that Republican statehouse incumbents who won in 2008 with percentages in the 50s were re-elected with percentages in the high 60s (a dramatic shift was seen in State Rep. Owen Donohoe's race, where the incumbent won with a 26 percent margin unlike his '08 race, where he won by only 5 percent). Two Republican incubments - Sheryl Spalding and Pat Colloton - won with 74 and 75 percent of the vote this year, margins that can only be deemed as "super" landslides.

The local Democratic Party in Johnson County is demoralized and its ranks are depleted. Out of the 5 GOP pickups in local statehouse seats, we at the Konnection correctly predicted four that would switch (3 definite pickups, 1 GOP-lean), one that was a toss-up, and one that leaned Democratic. Let's look at how those predictions panned out:

1. We rated the 19th District, Furtado (D) vs. Denning (R), as most likely to switch and predicted a margin of 55-45 percent. Our prediction for Jim was exact, as he took 55 percent of the vote to Furtado's 42 percent.

2. In Overland Park's 16th District, we predicted that Amanda Grosserode (R) would defeat Gene Rardin (D) 53-47 percent. Grosserode outperformed our expectations, but we were still close in our prediction as Grosserode won, 55-45 percent.

3. We predicted that FDIC Judge John Rubin would finally take the Shawnee-based 18th District seat from Cindy Neighbor, but few predicted the incredible blowout that occured, as Rubin racked up a 59-41 percent win, far surpassing our overly-cautious prediction of a 51-48 percent victory.

4. We predicted that Greg Smith, father of slain Shawnee Mission West senior Kelsey Smith would win a suprise upset in this longtime Democratic district that has only been held by a Republican once - for a 2 year term - in its entire history and we were not only correct in our predicted, we predicted the results accurately as well - 51 to 49 percent against Democrat Lisa Benlon.

5. The Merriam and eastern Shawnee-based 23rd district came out strongly for Obama in 2008 and Democrat Milak Talia was swept up in the Obama tide after a previous loss in 2006. The district's rapidly changing Democratics led us to hesitate in predicting a strong win for Hildabrand, although his strong grassroots campaign and incredible work in the precincts would make it competitive - we didn't see Hildabrand winning the seat by more than a percentage point. Fortunately, we were wrong again as Hildabrand won by an 8 point margin, defeating Talia, 54-46 percent.

6. Mike Slattery, representing one of the most liberal districts in Johnson County, had only nominal opposition from Republican Michael Foltz, and as such, he won with 60 percent of the vote - far stronger than our predicted 56 percent. Look for Mr. Slattery's political fortunes to change when Republicans in Topeka re-draw the map and add 7-8 more house seats in Johnson County due to census results and attempt to draw a more GOP "friendly" 24th District.

Yes, folks the consensus is in: Sebelius' attempt to dramatically alter the political landscape in Johnson County has failed. Her Bluestem fund was still flush with money and thousands was spent on behalf of local Democrats this cycle just like in 2008, but their message fell on deaf ears. Johnson County's flirtation with Democrats is officially over.

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