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Politics, Elections and Government

Education Now Top Issue In Race For Kansas Governor

Kansas Capital Dome

We all knew education was going to be an important issue in the race for Kansas governor.

But in the last three weeks of the campaign it just might turn out to 'the' issue.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, have charged each other with dastardly education deeds for weeks.

At a news conference last month in Topeka, Davis accused the governor of cutting education funding.

“All we’ve gotten from Gov. Brownback on education is deep cuts and failed leadership," he said.

At their first debate at the Kansas State Fair, Brownback charged Davis with wanting to close rural schools.

“Now my opponent, unfortunately, doesn’t share my support for our rural schools,” he told the audience.

Since the summer, polls have shown that education and the economy have been running neck-and-neck. But over the last couple of weeks something happened.

The most recent Survey USA poll for KSN News in Wichita showed that education is now ranked as the most important issue by those surveyed.

Thirty-seven percent now say education is the most crucial issue in the race. That is up from 31 percent in the August poll.

The economy comes in second at 31 percent.

University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis says this is exactly what the Davis campaign wanted.

"Paul Davis has been talking about this from the very beginning. He pivots back to education from many various angels from other issues," Loomis says.

"Democratic strategists would love to have people going into the voting booth thinking about education, no question. They would rather have them doing that than thinking about whether or not Brownback has been good for the economy."

Brownback argues he has been good for education and the state is spending more on schools than ever.

It’s true that Kansas has put millions more into teacher pensions and school district capital projects. But the amount spent per student has been cut.

Emporia State political science professor Michael Smith says Kansans just don’t like that.

"So poor Sam Brownback. He’s caught in a dilemma. He was elected overwhelmingly. He ran as a conservative. He said he was going to cut taxes but the voters didn’t realize that if you cut taxes you’ve got to cut the big ticket items in the state budget starting with education," says Smith. "And when it starts to show up in the communities, the voters aren’t too happy with that."

While the polls show education bubbling to the top, they also show a fairly significant number of people are undecided.

Survey USA, CNN and Fox all show about 12 to 15 percent of Kansas voters aren’t sure whether they’ll go for Davis or Brownback.

And like all elections, Smith says, how those undecided voters break will determine who wins.

"Are they really undecided, do they have a leaning and they’re just waiting for the candidate they’re leaning toward to seal the deal? It’s really hard to say how undecideds break. And it’s also hard to say if they’ll vote or not," he says.

Both Smith and Loomis caution that while it’s good for Davis that education is now top of mind with voters it is just one issue.

And there’s a lot of time and a lot of TV ads to go before Nov. 4.

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