Friday, November 26, 2010

KS-3: Analysis of a Republican Victory

Perhaps no win on election night 2010 was as gratifying for local Republicans as the return of the 3rd congressional district in Kansas to Republican control after 12 years. As of this writing, all outstanding U.S. house races have been resolved, and Republicans gained 63 seats this cycle - well in excess of the 39 needed to take majority status in the House of Representatives. With 242 members in the 112th Congress, Republicans will have their largest majority in the lower house of any party since 1949. The takeover of KS-3 by Republican Kevin Yoder played a significant role in the Republican comeback strategy of 2010.

So how did it happen? Kevin Yoder not only won the 3rd District, he won it handily with a landslide 59 percent to Moore's 38 percent, a 21 point margin. Let's look at the numbers:

  • Conventional wisdom holds that any Republican running in the 3rd District needs to get 55 percent of the vote in Johnson County to win the district at large (assuming that the Republican will lose Wyandotte County and the 3rd district portion of Douglas by 40-50 percent). Since Johnson County represents the population center of the district, a strong win in the county will cement overall victory despite the strong Democratic nature of Douglas and Wyandotte. In 2002, Adam Taff came the closest to beating Moore, winning Johnson County with 53 percent of the vote but falling just short of the magic 55 percent needed to win the district, losing overall by a narrow 50-47 percent margin to Moore. In 2004, Kris Kobach lost Johnson County with 48 percent of the vote, losing to Moore by 12 points. The low point for local Republicans came in 2006, when Chuck Ahner only received a paltry 38 percent of Johnson County's vote, leading to a landslide 64-34 percent win for Moore.

  • For the first time since 2002, a Republican not only won Johnson County but took it in a landslide. Yoder easily surpassed the 55 percent threshold, winning Johnson County with a landslide 65 percent of the vote (compared to Nick Jordan's 45 percent showing just 2 years prior). That margin in and of itself would have ensured a comfortable win for Yoder in the district, but it is Kevin's performance in Democrat-dominant Wyandotte and Douglas Counties that made the difference between a comfortable point-spread and a landslide win.

  • On average, previous Republican performance in the 3rd District Congressional race averaged 23 percent of the vote in Wyandotte Coundy and 27 percent of the vote in Douglas County. Yoder not only outperformed prior Republican results in these liberal areas, he increased the Republican percentage of the vote by 50 percent in each locality, an incredible 15-point increase over Republican performance in 2008 for Wyandotte County and a 12-percent increase over 2008 results for Douglas County. Yoder garnered 36 percent of the vote in KCK and Lawrence, remarkable feats for any Republican. This combination of a strong (>55%) win in Johnson County and greatly improved numbers in Douglas and Wyandotte led to a strong 59 percent win in the district.

Here's a look at the raw numbers:

So how did these impressive and historic numbers materialize? A number of factors, including Yoder's incisive and well-executed campaign strategy and Stephanie Moore's campaign blunders deserve credit for this outcome:
  1. Selection of the "Right" candidate, a.k.a a nominee that unified the Republican Party. Contrary to popular belief, the 3rd District is not a Republican bastion. Cook's Political Report gives it a slight Republican lean of only +3, making it more of a swing district, especially now with the recent demographic shifts and influx of minorities from KCMO and Wyandotte County and recent transplants of younger, upwardly mobile career professionals lured to Johnson County by jobs at many growing technology firms and corporate headquarters. The 3rd District is diverse ideologically and has long been dominated by Republican moderates, ensuring a continuous conservative vs. moderate showdown that led to a string of election losses. The right candidate needed to assume a delicate balance and rise above the moderate-conservative divide that has fractured Kansas Republicans for so long. In short, the ideal candidate must uphold basic conservative principles so conservatives don't defect to a third party Reform or Libertarian nominee and yet be palatable to moderates to prevent them from voting for the Democrat or not voting at all. As we said back in 2008, Kevin Yoder "is known as a pragmatic voice in the legislature who transcends the moderate/conservative political divide in the Kansas GOP and is well-respected by moderates and conservatives alike." Fiscally conservative and socially moderate, yet pro-life, Kevin was the perfect candidate to unite all factions of the party.

  2. A campaign strategy that targets northeast Johnson County. In the past, Republican congressional nominees have foolishly (and to their detriment) ignored the dense, northeast part of the county in favor of the fast-growing and sprawling suburbs of Overland Park and Olathe. Meanwhile, Dennis Moore continued to to rack up lopsided margins in these areas, enabling him to win again and again. Northeast Johnson County isn't extremely liberal, but it is not conservative territory either - it is a moderate Republican stronghold, full of fiscally conservative - socially moderate to liberal voters and in some cases, voters who are only fiscally conservative when it comes to the federal government - not to state and local government. This year, the CEOs and country club Republicans in Mission Hills had every reason to vote Republican (impending tax cuts for the rich, card check legislation, health care burdens on employers) and unease over conservative stances on social issues took a backseat as moderate Republicans throughout the region saw their disposable income plummet amid higher taxes and greater regulations. Yoder's campaign aggressively targeted northeast precincts with sustained door-to-door canvassing and phone calls throughout the campaign. In 2008, Nick Jordan only won 1 out of 9 cities in the northeast part of the county (Mission Hills). In 2010, liberal-trending northeast Johnson County turned bright red as Kevin Yoder carried 7 out of 9 cities (Fairway, Merriam, Mission, Mission Woods, Mission Hills, Prairie Village, and Roeland Park), losing only Westwood and Westwood Hills by very narrow margins.

  3. Dissatisfaction with the circumstances surrounding the nomination of Mr. Moore's successor. Dennis Moore announced his retirement in 2008, declaring he wanted to spend more time with family. In spring of 2010, Moore's wife, Stephene, announced that she planned to run for the seat, contradicting her husband's reasoning for stepping down. To the average voter, this reeked of political cronyism - and nepotism - at its worst. A congressman announces his retirement, gives a phony reason, and paves the way for his wife, who many view as unqualified since she has no prior history in elected politics and would not have been taken seriously without her husband's name. Stephene Moore attempted to deflect criticism by stating she would be her own person and vote irrespective of her husband - even differing from him on some issues. Yet she subsequently took positions on the issues that matched her husband exactly. The slogans wrote themselves: "No MOORE: It's Not a Family Business." Even Democrats were uncomfortable: a no-name, somewhat eccentric former Republican - a perennial candidate who has run for congress several times - changed parties to run against Mrs. Moore at the last minute in the primary. Despite being outspent by more than 20 to 1 and doing virtually no campaigning, Mr. Scherrer held Moore to 79 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. This was only a sign of things to come.

  4. Moore ran as a liberal in a very business-friendly, decidedly non-liberal district. Dennis Moore cleverly adapted to the district, stressing his blue dog credentials, voting for free trade pacts, and even voting for the 2001 tax cuts before he became beholden to his party when they gained the majority in 2006. Yet his wife strangely decided to run as an avowed liberal. Stephene Moore unabashedly took stands in favor of Obamacare, Cap-and-Trade, and union card-check legislation. Although her husband always curried the favor of the local business community, Stephene promoted her support by various unions - all of which had small memberships in Johnson County. Johnson County, a hub of small, independent businesses in Kansas City, loathed union card-check legislation and this lack of support was apparent at the debate sponsored by the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, where members applauded Yoder enthusiastically and visited his table before the debate. Meanwhile, Moore was clearly out of her element. Yoder keenly grasped on this disconnect and reiterated Moore's support for Obamacare, Cap and Trade, and Card Check, along with his opposition to all 3, and tied Moore to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (a deeply unpopular figure in the 3rd) at every opportunity. Moore claimed to be the "moderate" in the race but could not articulate what that was via a single stance or issue she supported.

  5. Moore's unfocused and lackluster campaign. Campaign theme? Platform? Message? Stephene Moore's campaign lacked any coherency. The only consistent theme to emerge was Stephene's claim that her experience as a wife, mother, and nurse qualified her for congress. She ironically labeled Yoder as a "career politician" while asking for a vote for in the same breath - the wife of the consummate career politician who had had spent nearly 25 years of his life in elected office. Moore's campaign displayed banners that read "fiscal conservative" at local parades, even though she supported the Obama stimulus and all other spending priorities of the Democratic majority. And she simultaneously promised "moderation" to the business crowd while reassuring the unions and progressive activists that she would be a reliable liberal vote. The confusion reached a tipping point when Moore was confronted by KMBC Channel 9's Michael Mahoney, asking her to explain her claim that repealing healthcare would add several billion to the deficit. Moore stumbled and finally provided an incoherent answer that seemed to contradict her position - indicating that a repeal would reduce the deficit - clearly a mistake, as that position was argued by Yoder. In the final weeks, the Moore campaign seized on revelations that Yoder had refused a pre-breath test during a traffic stop in 2009 and released a ridiculous TV ad attempting to link Yoder to Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson. The ad was not only completely ridiculous and irrelevant, it violated Moore's promise to maintain a clean campaign and her professed, strong antipathy to negative campaigning. Another contradiction and episode in cognitive dissonance. Not only that, Moore had apparently realized that a campaign centered on her personality and positions would go nowhere, so this complete act of desparation was an attempt to gain votes against Yoder, not for her, by default. Needless to say, it backfired incredibly.

  6. Yoder builds a campaign warchest. The Yoder campaign realized early on that raising money was crucial to defeating Mrs. Moore, who would have access to funding from her husband and donors who had supported her husband in the past. As expected, Stephene raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, surpassing her husband's previous fundraising records, but Yoder took several steps further. The Yoder team raised $1.5 million over the course of the race, including 703K in the 3rd quarter alone. This enabled the Yoder campaign to generate up to 15,000 calls to voters every week, knock on 1-2 thousand doors a week, and make expensive media buys that enabled them to run positive ads while also targeting Stephene Moore for taking unpopular stands and ambiguously deflecting questions about whether she'd vote for Pelosi as speaker. Moore could not compete in fundraising - although, most likely she would have outraised any of the other Republican candidates had they made it out of the primary.

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