Many residents, and even some Republican lawmakers, soured on the so-called tax experiment as the state faced deep revenue deficits and painful budget cuts. A bipartisan group of lawmakers overrode Mr. Brownback’s veto last year and reversed most of the tax policy.
Last fall, a survey of Kansans found 70 percent of people dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with Mr. Brownback’s performance. But Democrats have tried to capitalize on that before, with mixed results. In 2014, when Mr. Brownback was seeking a second term, the Democrat lost the governor’s race despite leading in pre-election polls. In 2016, Democrats and moderate Republicans made some gains in the state Legislature.
Mr. Kobach, a Breitbart columnist and steadfast ally of Mr. Trump, has long made national headlines for crafting and defending local restrictions on undocumented immigrants and for making unsupported claims about rampant voter fraud. Mr. Kobach has stressed those issues on the campaign trail. But he has also tried to draw a distinction between himself and Mr. Brownback, saying the ex-governor erred by cutting taxes without first making large cuts to state government, as he would do. Mr. Kobach even suggested that Ms. Kelly was the more Brownback-like candidate.
“She’s not actually running against me, she’s running against Sam Brownback,” Mr. Kobach said in the Garden City debate. After listing off points where he disagreed with Mr. Brownback, he added: “Would the real Sam Brownback please stand up?”
Kansas Democrats, currently on the sidelines in Topeka and shut out of the congressional delegation, see this election as a rare opportunity to reclaim their footing. In addition to Ms. Kelly’s race, party leaders think they can flip two House seats in the eastern part of the state. And in recent days, outraged Democrats have rallied around the issue of Dodge City’s only Election Day polling place being moved outside town, which many see as a blatant attempt to suppress Hispanic votes. A federal judge heard arguments Thursday on a lawsuit seeking a second polling place in Dodge City.
Democrats’ enthusiasm aside, there are reasons for skepticism about their chances. Ms. Kelly’s support for abortion rights and some forms of gun control could scare off swing voters. And Kansans wary of Mr. Kobach but not eager to vote for a Democrat have other options. Greg Orman, a businessman running for governor as an independent, has polled in the high single-digits in many polls and could tip a close race to the Republicans.
There is also the matter of Mr. Brownback, Ms. Kelly’s favorite rhetorical target, not being in Kansas anymore.