KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas Governor Sam Brownback could be in for the toughest race of his career this November.
The conservative governor finds himself down six points in a hypothetical general election matchup with Democrat Paul Davis, according to a poll conducted this week by SurveyUSA on behalf of NBC station KSN in Wichita.
In an exclusive interview with 41 Action News, Davis, a 12-year veteran of the Kansas legislature, said the poll data matched what he had seen on the stump anecdotally, as his campaign has grown into the early summer.
“There's a great deal of dissatisfaction with the governor and the direction that he's been leading the state,” Davis said.
The poll shows Davis holding onto 89 percent of Democrats and leading Brownback by nearly 20 points among independent voters. In deep-red Kansas, Davis will also need Republican voters to win in November, and he appears to be getting the support of some 26 percent already. The poll’s margin of error is 3.1 percent.
“I'm getting a lot of support from Republicans and I think there's certainly room to grow on that front,” Davis told 41 Action News. “But I think you're going to see a growing coalition of moderate Republicans, unaffiliated voters and Democrats that are gravitating toward our campaign.”
If there is gravitation, the issue exerting the pull is education. Seventy-three percent of Davis supporters listed education as their top issue (jobs were at the top of the chart for Brownback supporters). Davis has seized on education as his core issue – featuring it prominently on his website, collecting endorsements from teachers groups and touting his background as a son of two teachers in an interview.
“We've always had great public schools in Kansas, but people are worried they're about ready to slide downhill, and they want to have somebody they're comfortable is a strong public education supporter, and that's who I am,” Davis said.
Brownback’s campaign responded to the poll with a statement from spokesman Mark Dugan.
“This campaign will be a choice between Sam Brownback - a Reagan Republican and Paul Davis – an Obama Democrat. We are confident that once Kansans learn of the record of Sam Brownback and the record of Paul Davis, Governor Brownback will be successful in November,” the statement read.
The governor’s campaign also defended his record on education in particular.
“Under Governor Brownback's leadership Kansas has increased education funding by $195.5 million since 2011. There are 676 more teachers in Kansas today than when Governor Brownback came into office. Governor Brownback will keep fighting to get more money where it belongs – in Kansas classrooms.”
Brownback has yet to target Davis with television advertising or other direct attacks, something his well-funded campaign can afford, and will likely do later this fall.
“I have no doubt we're going to be outspent in this election,” Davis said.
The poll shows little volatility in the state’s other marquee race: that for the senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Pat Roberts. The poll shows Roberts with a comfortable, 56-23 percent lead over Tea Party challenger Milton Wolf in the Republican primary. Roberts also handily defeats likely Democratic challenger Chad Taylor – something the poll shows Wolf would fail to do – providing further ammunition for Roberts’ supporters.
Controversial Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach also leads in his primary race, but has just a six point lead in the general election against his likely opponent, Democrat Jean Schodorf.