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Kansas' Brownback struggles, faces new debt downgrade

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers his State of the State speech to an annual joint session of the House and Senate at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014.  (Photo by Orlin Wagner/AP)
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers his State of the State speech to an annual joint session of the House and Senate at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014.
A couple of months ago, when then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suffered a stunning defeat, congressional Republicans argued -- with a straight face -- that this was President Obama's fault. A variety of GOP officials, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insisted that Republican primary voters are so enraged by the White House that they're voting against Republicans who oppose the White House.
It was one of more transparently silly spins I've ever heard. Regrettably, it's spreading.
In Kansas yesterday, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) faced a token primary challenge from an unknown political neophyte named Jennifer Winn, who raised about $13,600 for the race. The incumbent governor won, of course, but Winn won nearly 37% of the vote -- far more than anyone thought possible in a GOP primary.
Asked for an explanation, Brownback blamed -- you guessed it -- the president.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who will all-but-certainly receive his party's stamp of approval to stand for reelection when the votes are counted Tuesday, offered a theory when asked why significant numbers of Republican primary voters are casting ballots against their incumbents Tuesday. "I think a big part of it is Barack Obama. That a lot of people are so irritated at what the president is doing, they just, they want somebody to throw a brick," Brownback told 41 Action News.... "I think it's a lot of deep irritation with the way the president has taken the country."

Just so we're clear, the governor of Kansas struggled unexpectedly in a GOP primary in which only registered Republicans could participate (the state has a closed-primary system). In Brownback's mind, these red-state GOP voters voted against their own party's sitting governor, who disagrees with the president on everything, because they hate Obama.
I can only hope even Brownback, as far to the right as he is, doesn't actually believe his own propaganda.
That said, why is the Kansas governor having so much trouble? It's not too big a mystery.
Brownback's economic experiment -- slash tax rates more than the state can afford and watch a miracle unfold -- has failed miserably on every possible front. We recently learned that the state's bond rating was downgraded in part due to these reckless tax breaks, and today, Kansas suffered another downgrade.

Kansas's credit rating was reduced by Standard & Poor's, which cited the effects of income-tax cuts endorsed by Republican Governor Sam Brownback that weren't matched by less spending. The rating fell to AA, third-highest, from AA+ and the state's appropriation-secured debt was dropped to AA- from AA, S&P said today. The outlook on both ratings is negative. "The negative outlook reflects our belief that there will be additional budget pressure as income tax cuts scheduled in future years go into effect, or if midyear revenue shortfalls resume," credit analyst David Hitchcock said.

As for the upcoming election, Brownback not only struggled unexpectedly in his primary, he's facing the toughest race of his life against Democrat Paul Davis, who was recently endorsed by a group of 104 Kansas Republicans, including two former lieutenant governors, the current state insurance commissioner, and many former members of the state legislature.
I can appreciate why many would be skeptical about Democratic chances in Kansas, especially in a year in which the GOP is expecting major gains. Brownback, after all, won the 2010 gubernatorial race in a 31-point landslide. As red states go, Kansas definitely qualifies as ruby red.
And yet, here we are with a legitimate horserace. The state Republican Party is divided; state finances have been ruined by a bizarre right-wing scheme; and Brownback's only explanation for his failures is complaints about President Obama that are literally unbelievable.
How bad is it? The Republican Governors Association, which assumed that Kansas was in the bag and not worth worrying about, launched a new attack ad against the Democratic candidate this morning. The RGA didn't expect to invest a dime in Kansas, but the party has no doubt seen some alarming polling data.
As Sean Sullivan put it, "The fact that the RGA is hitting the airwaves shows they are concerned about Brownback. You don't spend money to protect a governor you're not worried about losing."
Who would have guessed a year ago that Kansas would be one of the year's most interesting battlegrounds?
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