For the Republicans, the state party has chosen to dictate the number of joint appearances (4), control the agendas, eliminate the questions they do not want asked, and also require candidates to pledge their support to such rules. The candidates’ first appearance was February 17th in Wichita as part of Kansas Republicans’ annual party gathering, and the second was this past week. With only two joint appearances to go, one thing is clear: It will be difficult, if not impossible, for Republicans in many parts of the state to have the chance to size up their candidates and make an informed decision come August 7th.
Here comes the interesting result of these Republican rules. Jim Barnett, one of the Republican candidates, has declined to participate, given his opposition to such a controlled set of events. As a former candidate for Governor, he may have enough carry-over support to be competitive without that exposure. At least he stood up for what obviously would be a more robust and educational format. As well, Ed O’Malley, another Republican candidate, might have stayed in the race if there would have been a plan for many and open debates, allowing him the chance to gain the exposure so essential to win. But the money interests of the party prevail. They have their far-right candidates and want no part of anyone that might look like a moderate.
With the Democrats, the plan is totally different. If they’re invited, the candidates will come. To date, there have been forums put together at the local level in the far west (Colby), the southeast (Pittsburg), centrally in Abilene and Emporia, as well as in Kansas City, Johnson County, and more. On March 3rd in Topeka, clearly gathering the most attention and coverage, was the forum at the Democrats’ annual Washington Days event. As for the Democrats’ rules of engagement, except for Washington Days, they vary because the state party chose to let local organizations have some say. The goal is to have, as much as possible, a variety of questions and represent, as close as possible, the major concerns of Democrats.
So how is all this going to work out? Obviously, we don’t know. The Democrats, assuming they come together after the primary, will have a much stronger candidate having had so much experience honing his/her message. Given that the Democratic candidate will most likely be underfunded, this experience will be very important. On the Republican side, with much more money, the question is: Will their strategy be driven by outside interests using some of the same strategies that successfully put President Trump into office? As to debates in the general election, if history is any indicator, the Republicans will likely fight for as few of those as possible.