Scene: A phone rings in the governor’s office in Topeka. Not the official phone on the desk, but the cell phone in the governor’s pocket . . .
Brownback: Hello — Sam Brownback here.
Split screen to show Kansas Senator Pat Roberts sitting in the passenger seat of a car as it whizzes down a dusty state highway past dry fields where farmers have finished harvesting what is possibly the worst year on record for wheat.
Roberts: Have you seen the latest polling?
Brownback: No “Hello, Governor,” Pat? No “How’s the weather in Topeka”?
Roberts: Hello, Governor. How’s the weather in Topeka? HAVE YOU SEEN THE (static) POLLING?!?
Brownback: (sighs) Yes, I’ve seen the polling. I’m still down by 8 against that lefty from Lawrence, and you’re up by 20 over the Tea Party doctor who posted some nasty medical photos of shooting victims to his Facebook page and joked about them.
Roberts: Yes, I’m up by twenty points — but a month ago, it was 30!
Brownback: Well, you know, you’ve just been too successful for your own good. You’ve been elected so often that Wolf thinks he found an opening by saying you live in DC, not Kansas. Legally speaking, Kobach and the elections committee threw out the residency challenge, but on a gut level, Wolf’s attack does seem to be resonating with voters.
Roberts: (sarcastically) Well you’re just a bundle of (static) joy today. Thanks for the pep talk.
Brownback: What do you want from me? You’re the one with a 20 point lead. You should be giving me a pep talk.
Roberts: You want a pep talk? Call your conservative minions and get one from them. Maybe it’ll take their mind off of attacking me.
Brownback: (laughs) You think I can get them to do anything? Sorry, but they’re charging ahead with their crusading regardless of what I do.
Roberts: Sorry, but I don’t buy that. You fueled them up two years ago, when you ousted six GOP members of the legislature in the August 2012 primaries who didn’t fully back you in the budget fights. After beating every single one of them, you danced on their corpses by refusing to have a “unity breakfast” after the votes were counted. You built them up, you gave them their orders, and you sent them out to do battle. Well, they’re doing battle and we’re both reaping what you’ve sown. (looking out the window) Sam, the ugliest wheat harvest on record looks better than what we’re facing.
Brownback: Don’t give me that. If anyone has reason to breathe easy, it’s you. The medical board is investigating Wolf’s Facebook posts, and you’re still 20 points ahead with 10 days to go.
Roberts: Remind me again — what did Eric Cantor’s polling numbers look like 10 days ahead of his primary?
Roberts: You can see why I’m not terribly comfortable with my twenty point lead. Do you remember what Wolf said the night Cantor lost? I do: “Eric Cantor isn’t the only incumbent from Virginia who is going to lose his primary this year.”
Brownback: I still can’t figure out why I’m behind.
Roberts: And that, my friend, is why you’re behind. Those corpses you danced on two years ago aren’t all dead, they’re just mostly dead. Even worse, they’ve got friends, and none of them are pleased with you at all. They’re the heart of that list of 100 Republicans that just endorsed Paul Davis.
Brownback: They aren’t real republicans.
Roberts: Yeah, you can say that, you can get the Wall Street Journal to call them “Republicans” with scare quotes, but their whole history in Kansas politics has been as Republicans. And by demonizing these folks two years ago, you set the stage for them to bring me down in my race too.
Brownback: Your race? How is that hurting you?
Roberts: Here’s what SurveyUSA said:
Roberts today leads conservative primary challenger Milton Wolf by 20 points. That’s substantial, but down from the 33-point lead that Roberts had 1 month ago, when SurveyUSA last polled this contest. There is little movement among conservative voters, where you might expect to find it. There is movement among moderates, where Wolf has halved Roberts lead poll-on-poll. There is also movement among voters age 50 to 64, where Roberts had led by 31 points, now 8.
I don’t have access to SUSAs data, but I’ll bet you that the number of moderates on their list has been going down, and those that call themselves moderates do so because they see themselves to the left of Fred Phelps. The moderates are bailing on our Kansas Republican party, leaving the rest of them prey to the ravings of someone like Wolf. Wolf isn’t winning more moderates from me — he’s chasing them out of the party completely. Bob Dole would be called a moderate in our party today — if he wasn’t being called a RINO for sitting down and dealing with democrats when he was our party’s leader in the Senate.
Brownback: I see what you mean, but Davis is my problem, not Wolf.
Roberts: Yes, he most certainly is. Here’s what SUSA said about your race:
For Governor, Sam Brownback’s Kansas Experiment is slowly coming into the national spotlight. Today, in a hypothetical head-to-head-to-head, the incumbent Republican ticket of Brownback and Jeff Colyer trails the Democratic challenger ticket of Paul Davis and Jill Docking, 48% to 40%. Compared to an identical SurveyUSA poll conducted 1 month ago, Brownback is down 1 point, Davis is up 1 point. The governor’s race crosstabs reveal: the older you are, the less you like Sam Brownback. He trails by 20 points among seniors, trails by 13 points among those age 50 to 64. Only among voters under age 50 does Brownback have a nominal advantage. Among voters who say the most important issue in the Governor’s election is education funding, Davis-Docking lead 4:1. Among voters who say the most important issue in the Governor’s election is tax rates, Brownback-Colyer lead 5:3. Brownback holds 60% of the Republican base, compared to Davis, who holds 89% of the Democratic base. Independents break for the Democrat by 21 points – but, it’s important to point out that the Libertarian ticket of Keen Umbehr and Josh Umbehr takes 13% of Independent votes.
Roberts: 60% may win you a nomination, but it will kill you in November.
Brownback: Tell me something I don’t know.
Roberts: OK, how’s this? If I go down — or even if I squeeze by — the exodus from the GOP in November will be stunning. If you think Davis has been giving you fits now, imagine what he’ll say the day after the August primary. “The Kansas Republican party is the party ruled by extremists. When a pillar of the state Republican party like Pat Roberts can be beaten (or scared by, depending on the results) by a neophyte reactionary like Martin Wolf, it tells you who belongs to their party and who doesn’t. And if you’re a moderate, thinking person, you don’t. Just ask my Republican supporters . . .” He’ll trot out every one of those Republicans, and they’ll talk to every one of their Republican friends, and you will lose. Big.
Brownback: And your point is . . . ?
Roberts: My point is simple. If you want to win, you make sure I win in August. You make sure Wolf gets stomped. You make sure that the word goes out that the Republican party of our great state does not kill the incumbents in the statewide offices at the top of the ticket. Your survival depends on mine, Sam. You need every GOP voter you can get, and if I get pushed hard or even beaten, it tells the moderate GOP voters that this isn’t their party any more.
Brownback: (irritated) It *isn’t* their party, Pat. It’s mine, and I’m going to keep pushing for my tax cuts, my conservative spending priorities, and my pro-life social positions. This is my party, not theirs.
Roberts: Fine. It’s your party. But the more you rub that in their faces, and the more the reactionaries in the party cheer about it and go after folks like me, the faster they’ll run away from the party and run away from you. You can have your tax cut proposals and your spending proposals and your dream of abolishing every abortion provider and every dispenser of contraceptives in the state — but they’ll just be proposals and dreams, because you’ll be out of a job. If you want to keep your job and keep the power to work to make those dreams into laws, you better get behind me and make sure I win and win big.
(Roberts’ car pulls off the highway in front of a large corrugated metal building. He opens the door, and a cacophony of squawking assaults his ears.)
Brownback: Pat, what in the world is all that noise?
Roberts: (putting up his free hand to cover the ear with no phone to it) I just arrived at my next campaign stop.
Brownback: Where in the world is that?
Roberts: I’m at a poultry farm, and the chickens are coming home to roost.
Roberts: I’ve got to go, Sam, but remember what I said. You want to win? You make (loud squawking) sure that I win first. Because if I don’t win in August, there’s no way in hell you will come November.
h/t to nlozler for the photo, used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license. Any resemblance between this photo and a photo of an actual meeting of the Kansas Republican party leadership is purely coincidental.