TOPEKA, Kan. — Conservative Republicans who have been working to push more liberal party members out of state legislatures in a large section of the country have scored big victories in Kansas, where a state Senate that has been an obstacle to fiscal and social policy changes is likely to have a solid conservative majority next year.
Unlike other states, where results for conservatives have been mixed, Tuesday’s primary in Kansas saw voters in Republican races oust seven incumbent moderate senators. An eighth, Senate President Steve Morris of Hugoton, also conceded to his conservative opponent, marking the end of his 20-year career as a legislator. He blamed the losses on attack ads.
The targeted liberal incumbents outspent their conservative challengers, often by margins of 3-to-1 or more and received financial support from the state’s largest teachers’ union and labor groups normally aligned with Democrats.
But conservatives had the backing of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the anti-tax, small-government group Americans for Prosperity, and the result was hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending by both candidates and political action committees.
Some Republican voters transferred their ongoing frustration with President Obama and his federal health care law to moderate Republican state senators. Some wanted the Senate to be more conservative and more in line with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and the state House’s right-leaning majority.
“I would like it as conservative as it can get,” said Alex Yoho, a 56-year-old optician from Topeka, who voted for a conservative challenger in his local state Senate race. “You can’t get too conservative for me.”
More liberal Republican senators were targeted even before they joined Democrats in resisting Mr. Brownback’s successful push for income-tax cuts. The state will decrease its individual income tax rates for 2013 and exempt the owners of 191,000 businesses from all income taxes with the intent of stimulating the economy.
But the bipartisan coalition in the Senate also has prevented conservatives from going as far as they would like toward lessening labor unions’ political influence, remaking the appellate courts and moving new public employees into a 401(k)-style pension plan.
While similar contentious primary races were seen in states including Missouri and Texas, the push was most intense in Kansas.
Conservatives defeated Sens. Pete Brungardt of Salina, Bob Marshall of Fort Scott, Tim Owens of Overland Park, Roger Reitz of Manhattan, Jean Schodorf of Wichita, Ruth Teichman of Stafford and Dwayne Umbarger of Thayer.
Results in Mr. Morris‘ race showed him losing to state Rep. Larry Powell, a conservative Garden City Republican, who had about 52 percent of the vote.
The only conservative senator to lose a primary was Dick Kelsey of Goddard, but his opponent, Rep. Dan Kerschen of Garden Plain, also is a conservative.
If Republicans keep the seats they now have, conservatives would have 27 in the 40-member Senate. Elections in 2010 — which swept Mr. Brownback into the governor’s office — left the House with a conservative Republican majority.
“I want a conservative Legislature,” said Rich Walen, a 68-year-old consultant from Overland Park who voted against Mr. Owens. “We are getting so liberal that we are just handing everybody anything.”
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