A liberal Democratic state legislator is emerging as a likely challenger to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) in a state where conservative domination reigns.
Speculation continues to grow among Kansas political insiders that state House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D-Lawrence) will be the Democratic nominee in 2014 against Brownback, who had a 37 percent job approval rating in a poll earlier this year, and similar numbers in a poll from last summer. Davis' likely candidacy, though, comes as Kansas Democrats struggle to gain traction while holding no statewide offices and as a virtually powerless minority in the state Legislature.
Several sources said that Davis is polling and gathering resources for the race. He has also been mentioned as a challenger to United States Sen. Pat Roberts (R) or Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) in 2014. University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis, who believes Davis will be the nominee, said the incumbent's poll numbers could provide an opening for a Democrat. Loomis disputes claims that Davis, who resides in the state's most liberal city, is a liberal.
"I would say he is a centrist Democrat and a fairly cautious one at that," Loomis said of Davis. "Of course that doesn't mean he won't be called a liberal who was an Obama delegate twice, lives in Lawrence and favors Obamacare."
One Kansas Democratic Party insider disagreed with Loomis saying Davis is "moderate by standards of the coasts but not moderate by the Kansas definition."
Davis' is one of three names circulating among Kansas Democrats in recent weeks, including businesswoman Jill Docking, who lost a 1996 U.S. Senate race to Brownback, and former state Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty. Svaty, 33, faced some pushback from the state's progressive community when an Associated Press story last week mentioned him as a potential candidate. Docking is the daughter-in-law and granddaughter-in-law of former Kansas governors and the wife of former Lt. Gov. Thomas Docking (D), who unsuccessfully sought the governorship in 1986.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon told HuffPost that the party is staying out of any recruitment, but expects a consensus to emerge in the coming months. With state law restricting fundraising during the legislative session, which is from January to May, challengers would have to start raising money in 2013. Brownback is expected to be aided by outside groups that previously backed conservative Republican legislative candidates.
Davis referred a call seeking comment to his legislative spokeswoman Haley Pollock. Pollock provided HuffPost with a statement from Davis.
"It's clear Kansans are dissatisfied with the Brownback agenda. Property taxes and sales taxes have gone up on the middle class while unemployment remains steady and public schools remain underfunded," Davis said in the statement. "Kansans deserve an opportunity to choose a new direction for our state in the next election, and I am certain that a competitive opponent against Sam Brownback will emerge in the coming months."
When specifically questioned on Davis' potential candidacy, Pollock declined to comment.
As minority leader, Davis presides over a 33-member caucus which largely reacts to proposals from the 92-member GOP caucus. He is known for an inclusive leadership style that has allowed even right-wing members of the caucus to flourish; he appointed Rep. Jan Pauls (D-Hutchison) who is known for her anti-gay and pro-life views as the party's top spokesperson on the Judiciary Committee.
While Democrats continue to sort out their options, Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker told HuffPost that the Democrats' campaign against Brownback is expected and the governor is working hard to prepare.
"He's got two fundraisers a week from now to November," Barker said.