Share

Archives: KHI News Service

On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org.

Postcards, shoe leather factor in Kansas elections

By Amy Jeffries | July 08, 2016

Postcards, shoe leather factor in Kansas elections
Photo by Amy Jeffries/KCUR A line-up of candidates for Kansas Senate District 39 sit at a meet-and-greet in Garden City. From left are state Sen. Larry Powell, Congressional candidate Roger Marshall, state Rep. John Doll and Democratic challenger Zach Worf.

#KS2016

This story is part of a 2016 Kansas elections collaboration involving the KHI News Service, KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio.

In far western Kansas, Senate District 39 spans 10 counties — it’s vast and it’s flat.

For once, there is a Democratic candidate out here. Zach Worf, a political novice, is the first Democrat to try for the Kansas Senate seat in a long time.

The real race is still the Republican primary on Aug. 2. This time it’s a contest between incumbent Sen. Larry Powell and Garden City Rep. John Doll.

Doll says he knows what the prime attack against him will be: that he used to be a Democrat.

“I ran for the U.S. Congress (against Jerry Moran) as a Democrat. It’s not something I’m going to be able to hide,” Doll said.

Doll anticipated the postcards — political mailers that can reach a wide audience and spread a simple message. Powell’s campaign already has sent some showing the challenger’s face next to Democrats Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

The regulars at the Daylight Donuts in Ulysses, which is within the 39th District, have heard of Doll and Powell. But, typical of some voters when it comes to state lawmakers, they don’t know much about them.

Betty Radloff, who is retired from work as a school cook and secretary and runs a tax office with her husband, said she actually tries to ignore politicians. Nonetheless, she said she votes in every election.

So how does she decide who to vote for? That’s where postcards come into play.

“You know, they call you, you get all the things in the mail,” Radloff said. 

Candidate mailers stay positive

Stephanie Sharp is a campaign consultant, working mostly for moderate Republicans in Johnson County. She does what she calls “campaign product coordination” — websites, yard signs, stickers, fliers and, yes, postcards.

Sharp has been in a six-week sprint since the June 1 candidate filing deadline to land the right postcards in the right mailboxes before election offices start sending advance ballots July 13.

Most of her client’s mailings are positive — smiling pictures of candidates with bullet points about passion issues or comparisons to opponents.

“Most candidates won’t put out really negative stuff under their own ‘paid-for-by’ attribution,” Sharp said.

It's political action committees that will send the “nasty-grams.”

[ Add to the gallery of Kansas campaign postcards: Submit photos online or by email. ]

Photo by Singularis Paid for by the Kansas Chamber, this postcard was among several that doomed Kansas Senate President Steve Morris' bid for re-election in 2012.

View larger photo

Steve Morris had been the District 39 state senator for 20 years until 2012 when he was blasted with “nasty-grams.” At the time, Morris was president of the Kansas Senate and National Council of State Legislatures. Postcards paid for by political action committees suggested Morris was living large on the taxpayers’ dime. He said it wasn’t true.

“One of the mailings that came out, they showed me in a tuxedo smoking a cigar — which, I don’t smoke — burning a $100 bill,” Morris said.

Morris was blindsided. He’d raised nearly $90,000 in the seven months before the primary from a list of individual donors 18 pages long. Larry Powell, then the challenger, had brought in less than $30,000, and that’s counting the $20,000 he’d loaned to his own campaign.

Powell didn’t need to do more fundraising. The Kansas Chamber and affiliated groups like Americans for Prosperity Kansas and Kansas Club for Growth were spending tens of thousands more on TV and radio ads, phone banking and mailings.

“We were sort of steamrolled,” Morris said.  

The Kansas Chamber has endorsed 73 legislative candidates in this year’s primaries and will again be sending out postcards supporting some, including Powell. Mailers from Kansas Club for Growth and Kansas Realtors PAC already have landed in the 39th District.  

No one knows just how much is being spent on mailers right now. Those reports aren’t due until just days before the elections.

Stephanie Sharp said there’s just one antidote to whatever’s coming: “The best thing to beat mail is candidates on doorsteps.”

Meet-and-greet

Photo by Amy Jeffries/KCUR John Doll, left, and Larry Powell tour Pioneer Electric before a candidate meet-and-greet at the co-op in Ulysses.

View larger photo

That’s Doll’s strategy. He hired a four-person team to knock on the door of every Republican household in the 39th District.

One Friday in June, both Doll and Powell were getting some facetime. Pioneer Electric, a co-op in Ulysses, hosted the meet-and-greet.

Powell dedicated his stump speech to his big win — pushing back against protections for the lesser prairie chicken that he said impede development in western Kansas.

“This endangered species deal costs consumers, electric co-op people, and counties, and everybody,” Powell told the audience of employees and co-op members at Pioneer.

Doll, meanwhile, attempted to get ahead of the postcards.

“I was just a Democrat because Dad was a Democrat,” Doll said.

Even with that inoculation, the postcards will keep coming. Most of them get dumped in the last weeks and even days before the election.

— Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. July 11 to clarify that it is the Kansas Club for Growth that has paid for postcards in Kansas.

— Amy Jeffries is the Kansas elections editor at KCUR, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas.