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Trounced at Polls, Kansas GOP Is Still Plagued by Infighting

Outgoing Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline has earned a reputation for scrutinizing abortion clinics. He was defeated Nov. 7 as many GOP moderates voted for a newly declared Democrat.
Outgoing Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline has earned a reputation for scrutinizing abortion clinics. He was defeated Nov. 7 as many GOP moderates voted for a newly declared Democrat. (By Jeff Tuttle -- Wichita Eagle Via Associated Press)

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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 30, 2006

CHICAGO, Dec. 29 -- Phill Kline is not one to slink away -- and the ideological wars inside the Kansas Republican Party show no sign of ending.

The fiercely antiabortion Republican attorney general in Kansas lost his reelection bid in November when moderate Republicans voted in droves for Paul Morrison, a longtime Johnson County district attorney who became a Democrat in hopes of vanquishing Kline.

Statewide, Kline got barely 4 in 10 votes. In Johnson County, the state's most populous county, his loss was more dramatic. That made it especially shocking after the election when Republican precinct leaders in the county chose Kline to finish the final two years of Morrison's term as prosecutor.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), a vocal Kline foe, refused to sign his nomination papers, a ceremonial task, lambasting a "small narrow group of partisan political operatives" for choosing him. At the Westside Family Church in Lenexa, after precinct leaders backed Kline over a Morrison aide 316 to 291, Republicans showed just how divided they are.

"The moment Phill Kline got the nomination, half the room got up and walked out," said Scott Schwab, the county GOP chairman. "It wasn't so much yelling or cussing. They threw up their arms and said, 'What do we do now?' "

Kline's reincarnation as Johnson County prosecutor reveals the depth of the continuing Republican split in Kansas and suggests challenges faced by the GOP nationwide as it tries to recover from its Nov. 7 losses and build toward 2008.

Republicans lost their U.S. House and Senate majorities and 350 seats in state legislatures across the country. The early post-election Kansas experiences show that a recovery could be difficult because the splits inside the party between social conservatives and moderates will not be easily healed.

Given the defeats in Kansas of religious conservatives such as Kline, U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun (R) and some members of the State Board of Education, one Kansas political analyst expected the GOP "would be ready to mend fences and move forward."

But that has not yet happened.

"I think the divide between the moderates and conservatives is deepening rather than closing," said Kansas State University professor Joseph Aistrup. "This type of politics is continuing into our future, at least another four years."

The Kansas political divide has drawn outsized attention in recent years. The state was the setting for an influential 2004 book by Thomas Frank, "What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America."

Against that backdrop, Kline made headlines with his assault on abortion clinics while the Board of Education drew worldwide attention -- and some ridicule -- for its endorsement of challenges to firmly established Darwinian theory.


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