Former Ky. Democratic operative using Ky. campaign tactics in Kansas governor's race

07/17/2014 08:14 AM

Jason Perkey cut his teeth in politics working campaigns in the Bluegrass and now the Louisville, Kentucky native is applying the lessons he learned from his time in the state to the Kansas governor’s race.

Perkey, who is the executive director for the Kansas Democratic Party, is applying a strategy first implemented in the 2011 re-election campaign of Governor Steve Beshear in Kentucky.

Democrats in Kansas launched a secretive mass endorsement of high profile former and elected Republican officials which has the GOP in the state off message and striking out at one another.

More than 100 Republican officials endorsed Paul Davis, the Democratic opponent to incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, on Tuesday.

The strategy is a page pulled straight from the book of Kentucky Democratic politics.

“What happened in Kentucky is something we used as a best practice in Kansas also,” Perkey told Pure Politics in a phone interview.

Perkey witnessed the endorsement strategy in action, and the effect it had in the Kentucky gubernatorial race in 2011, when he worked as a regional field director for the Beshear – Abramson campaign.

At that time Beshear’s Campaign Manager, Bill Hyers, along with Sherman Brown, who was a deputy campaign manager for Beshear, and Chad Aull, the political director for the race, came up with the strategy to use against Republican David Williams and his running mate Richie Farmer.

In May of 2011 the Beshear campaign rolled out 70 Republicans endorsing the ticket, following that with 56 “prominent Kentucky Republicans” the following week. And even more in the months that followed including former Republican Congressman Larry Hopkins, who snubbed David Williams — who managed Hopkins’ 1991 primary campaign for governor.

“During the 2011 race, Gov. Beshear had high approval with Democrats, Republicans and independents, just like he enjoys today. We had a group of about 70 self identified Republicans that supported the Beshear – Abramson campaign. We reached out and asked if they would mind signing their name publicly with that support. It was kind of a snowball effect from there,” Brown said.

In Kansas, Perkey, who has been in the state since 2012, said there was already a group of two dozen disenfranchised Republicans who had formed in 2010, but with the help of a retiring Republican state Rep. Charlie Roth the group grew from 50 people in April to 104 when they launched the strategy earlier this week.

Perkey said the endorsements have Republicans “attacking people personally” rather than discussing the broader issues in the race. While Republicans focus on the issue of endorsements it allows Democrats to clarify their message while the GOP messaging only becomes murkier, and in some cases creates deeper fractions in the party.

Kansas Republican Rep. J.R. Claeys, is quoted in one Kansas paper attacking the age of the members of his own party saying “they really raided the nursing home for some of them.”

The negative attack, Penksy predicts, will embolden more Kansas Republicans to follow suit just as they did in Kentucky.

The endorsement strategy didn’t win the race for Democrats in Kentucky, it was but a small piece in a larger storyline illustrative of the inside baseball most voters never see being played.

“This is one of those small projects on a campaign that build on a storyline or overall election message but most voters don’t know anything about,” Brown told Pure Politics.

A June poll showed Kansas Democratic challenger Davis leading the Republican Gov. Brownback 47 to 41. The same poll showed one in four Republicans with a desire to back Davis.


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