Thursday, November 4, 2010

Johnson County is Finally a Red County

November 2, 2010 brought historic victories for Republicans nationwide. From coast to coast, Republicans made impressive gains. These gains, outside of perhaps California, knew few boundaries or other demographic barriers. They won 64 new House seats (61 net, could raise as high as 70). They won 6 new Senate seats, which could be 7 -- and should have and could have been more. They won at least 11 new Governorships. They now control 55 of the 99 state legislative chambers. Hidden in the top line results is how close this red tidal wave came to being an absolute slaughter nationwide -- several Democrats barely survived challenges that could have driven the House number higher.

One place it was a slaughter was here in Kansas, where Republicans swept all of the statewide offices, which only one very liberal Republican (Sandy Praeger) held until Tuesday night. Those offices were replaced by conservatives -- ranging from Kris Kobach on the right to Derek Schmidt on the more moderate side, all of whom won by huge margins. In the Kansas House, Republicans picked up 16 conservative seats on Tuesday night, an amazing number when you consider Republicans already had 76 seats in a 125 seat body.

However, the one place where Republicans overall and conservatives specifically can absolutely rejoice is right here in Johnson County, where for the first time since conservatives arrived on the scene in 1992, the county finally became a truly red county. What makes this achievement truly remarkable is that in 2008, it appeared as though Johnson County might be turning hopelessly blue -- but what 2010 showed is that when good conservatives candidates step forward and have the courage to run and run on principle, good things will happen.

Make no mistake, some of the success was due in part to the national mood going against Democrats. But, as many have noted in opinion polls and as we have seen in some of the mixed results in Senate races, this isn't necessairly due to some embrace of Republicans. Yet, what we have seen in Kansas, and particularly Johnson County, is a recognition of the fact that Sebelius-era gains aside, Johnson County is a conservative county that will embrace conservative candidates.

What's truly remarkable is when you look into the details of the results. In the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, Democrats went from 1 seat in Johnson County to 6. Prior to entering the 2010 cycle, only 10 of the 22 House seats in Johnson County were held by people considered to be at least somewhat conservative. That number is now 16, the highest it has ever been proportion wise.

In the seats that we gained, the results were impressive -- in District 16, not held by a Republican since 2006 and not by a conservative since 2002, Amanda Grosserode won with 55% of the vote. In District 17, held by three liberal Republicans (one is now a democrat) since 1992, Kelly Meigs won in the primary and easily won in the general with 63% of the vote. In District 18, John Rubin absolutely destroyed Cindy Neighbor, who had been in and out of the seat since 2000 in a series of close races that went both directions. In District 19, previously held by liberal Phil Kline and then Democrat Delores Furtado, Jim Denning won with 56% of the vote. In District 23, which was lost in 2008 53-47, Brett Hildabrand flipped the result around. And in District 22, a seat not held by a Republican since 1996, Greg Smith won 51-49.

The amazing numbers don't end there. Jason Osterhaus, a conservative Republican, upended son-of-the-former-Congressman Larry Winn II in one of the greatest political upsets/stories in Johnson County political history, capturing the 4th County Commission District, currently occupied by Johnson County icon and former OP Mayor Ed Eilert. Jason, who defeated Winn, City Councilwoman (and wife of Senator Tim Owens) Donna Owens, and Chuck Vogt in the primary, didn't just squeak by either -- he won with 53% of the vote, largely on a strong grassroots campaign backed up by help from the conservative Kansas Governtment Reform PAC, which paid for mailers and autodials from conservative stalwarts Kris Kobach, Currie Myers, and Darla Jaye, among others.

It gets better.

Conservative incumbents across the county didn't do any worse than 60% -- Lance Kinzer earned 68% in District 14, up from 60 in 2008; Arlen Siegfreid earned 65% in District 15, up from 52 in 2008; Anthony Brown earned 68% in District 38, up from 57% in 2008; Owen Donohoe, who had a serious challenger who spent tens of thousands trying to defeat him, earned 62% in District 39, up from 52% in 2008. These are well known conservatives being completely embraced by the voters of Johnson County.

The conservative insurgency -- and the collapse of Democrats and liberal Republcanism -- is even more evident when you look at the county wide results in what where thought to be competitive "big" races.

Kevin Yoder, who ran on a conservative theme, turned NIck Jordan's 39% in 2008 to a 59% in 2010 in District 3 as a whole, and whopping 65% in Johnson County. No Republican had done better than 48% since 1998 and no county had even won Johnson County since 2002.. Yes, Stephene Moore was a terrible candidate, but make no mistake -- Yoder didn't win by being Jan Meyers -- he won by being a conservative in the mold of a Paul Ryan, and that's to his credit.

Kris Kobach, the so-called conservative 'lightning rod', pulled a 61% in his Secretary of State race, incredible given his 43% showing in 2004. What this showed is that the voters in Johnson County embraced his message and do care about immigration and voter fraud.

Sam Brownback, widely regarded as a strong social conservative, earned a 63% in Johnson County.

And completely blowing up the theory that more moderate Republicans make better statewide candidates or are somehow more appealing in Johnson County, Derek Schmidt, a right-leaning but still-somewhat moderate State Senator, was last among the statewide candidates, *only* pulling 56%.

The Johnson County Sun and Kansas City Star are unlikely to talk about these numbers in depth and what they mean, but the impact should not be minimized. The Democratic gains made in the 2000's are gone -- the Democrats, outside of lonely Mike Slattery in the 24th District -- are basically gone. Moderate Republicans are on life support, down to just five endangered (just ask Sheryl Spalding) House Reps and three State Senators in the state legislature -- clinging on to largely uncontested (outside of the County Commission and a few isolated seats) local races on city councils and school boards.

The moral of this story is that conservatives are without question on the asendancy and what could very well be on an unstoppable offensive. One or two new Senate seats and Four or five new House seats -- all in conservative growth areas -- will emerge in 2012, likely adding to these numbers. Conservatives challengers are likely to emerge in the remaining three Senate and six House seats held by moderates and liberals. The Osterhaus victory -- on the heels of the Distler and Tammy Thomas wins in Shawnee and De Soto -- will likely motivate conservatives to start focusing on local government, possibly starting this Spring.

What this will mean is a very deep bench, filled with quality representatives who will help market the conservative brand and fill seats up the political ladder when current elected officials move on. What this will means is a motivated Republican and conservative electorate. And, as it already probably is, it will most likely result in a complete loss of morale within the Democratic and RINO camps, who might soon recognize that their days are numbered and that the fight may soon be over.

Yes, Johnson County is finally a "red county" and is on its way to being a deeply red county.

So who gets the credit for this great surge of conservative success?

The immediate praise goes to those candidates who had the courage to step up and run -- Amanda Grosserode, Kelly Meigs, John Rubin, Jim Denning, Brett Hildabrand, Greg Smith, and Jason Osterhaus. Not only are each of these individuals praise-worthy for stepping forward to endure the hard work of a campaign, they are all truly political superstars, demonstrated by their impressive margins of victory and their absolute commitment to conservative principles. Even better, they are all first class people who Kansans will be very proud of.

In Grosserode's case, she helped found the Johnson County tea party movement and had the wisdom to turn that concern over her country into action, stepping forward to run herself in a critical district for conservatives to hold. Running seemingly non-stop from the day she got in the race, her Democratic opponent had no prayer from the start, despite spending tens of thousands spreading disinformation about Amanda. In the end, as we noted earlier, her hard work and commitment to the truth earned her 55%.

In Rubin's case, after an extremely narrow loss in 2008 which would have caused many candidates to punt and move on, he had the foresight to understand that a narrow loss in a Democratic year in 2008 meant a likely win in 2010, and win he did. John didn't rest on the laurels of a Republican wind, he walked his entire district on a solid conservative message and won with nearly 60% of the vote, an amazing margin given the history of the District.

In Meigs' case, she took on 18 years of history and the entire RINO establishment in a fearless manner, running one of the best organized campaigns in memory. She would not accept the conventional wisdom that District 17, simply because it had been held by Benlon, Sharp, and Quigley -- was off limits to conservatives. She ended that narrative completely, winning 54% in the primary and an impressive 63% in the general election.

The stories go on but the results are the same. Osterhaus had no money and defeated a Johnson County icon. Denning took his private sector experience and had the courage to serve. Smith's personal and inspirational story is well known to all.

Of course, these victories would not have been possible without the foundation of those who came before them. People like Lance Kinzer, Anthony Brown, Arlen Siegfreid, Owen Donohoe and others, who in just the past few years showed that you can be authentically conservative, run on principle, and consistently win. People like Mary Pilcher Cook, who despite a loss for the House in 2006 (and also in 2002), won 55% in a race for the Senate in 2010, laying the foundation in Nortwhest Johnson County for Meigs, Hildabrand, and Rubin. People like Joy Bourdess, who in 2008 ran an impressive race, though unsuccessfully, in District 22, creating a path for which Greg Smith could walk down two years later.

And, dating back to the 90's and early 2000's, we must not ever forget those like Kay O'Connor, John Toplikar, Phill Kline, Judy Morrison, Cliff Franklin, Tim Carmody and others who by their own courage then, founded the conservative movement in Johnson County that is enjoying widespread success in 2010.

It's hard to describe the 20 years of "fighting the good fight" and the depth to which conservatives have fought for a day like Tuesday. Yes, we had some wins, but we had some crushing losses too and sometimes seemingly insurmountable odds. Only limited success in statewide races. The media hitting us again and again, demonizing our candidates and making fun of our movement. Large numbers of liberals within our own party, rendering our large majorities meaningless. Winning seats only to lose them two years later. Yet, we kept fighting, never giving up, realizing that one day, the conservatives day would come, and now it has.

To be clear, this fight is not finished. There are still elections to be won and challenges ahead, and time will tell if the historic conservative surge of 2010 will last and translate into further victories down the road, whether they be at the local, state, or national level. And to be sure, many factors played into these impressive victories, including the national mood, the strength of the top of the ticket, and the overall weakness of our opposition. Moreover, the long term staying power of this new conservative reality in Johnson County will depend on a host of factors, including the records of those we just elected, the ability to create a sustainable and well organized grassroots movement, and the overall mood of the electorate.

However, it is the hunch of this blog is that it will indeed last. Never before has their been this much energy within our great conservative movement. And, if it does last, in ten years from now, much as we today remember the names of O'Connor and Kline and what they meant to our movement, let's always remember the names of Pilcher Cook, Kinzer, Brown, Grosserode, Smith, Meigs, Hildabrand, Rubin, Denning, and Osterhaus, and so many others who made Tuesday possible.