No. 7: Powell defeats Morris in state Senate GOP primary

12/22/2012

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories of 2012.

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories of 2012.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

State Rep. Larry Powell's narrow Aug. 7 Republican primary win over 20-year incumbent and state Senate president Steve Morris was the head of a surge of ultra-conservative GOP wins over moderate Republicans in legislative elections in 2012.

Powell's win was also named the Telegram's No. 7 new story of the year.

Powell, R-Garden City, earned 4,969 votes to Morris', R-Hugoton, 4,635, in a tight race for Senate District 39 that pundits across the state pointed to as a battle between moderates and ultra-conservatives within the state Republican party.

At least 10 incumbent Republicans, including Morris, were ousted from the Kansas Senate in the August primary.

In a past Telegram story, Morris said he was "disheartened" by negative campaign mailings and attack ads from conservative groups, which he blamed for moderates' losses.

"It wasn't just my race, it was races across the state. It seemed like every day there was one or two negative mail pieces, sometimes vicious, sometimes despicable and totally untrue," Morris said at the time.

Morris and other moderates became targets of conservative ire by obstructing conservative proposals on Gov. Sam Brownback's agenda on issues such as cuts to education funding, the state arts agency, abortion and tax reform.

The Powell-Morris race also drew national attention. According to a Huffington Post story in August, internal polls showed moderate Republicans in the lead until roughly three weeks before the primary, when a series of conservative groups launched radio and television attack ads on moderates, tying them to President Barack Obama and claiming they supported Obamacare. Seventeen out of 22 moderate Republican Senate candidates were defeated.

The Huffington Post noted that conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansas Right to Life, spent between $3 million and $8 million statewide during the primary.

Powell didn't think outside interest groups greatly influenced the primary; instead, he credited his victory to grassroots campaigning.

"I don't know what actually made the difference in the campaign. I know I had friends all over the district that helped me, people I hadn't seen for years," Powell said. "It was a team effort on the part of the people who were helping."

Powell, who represented Garden City for 12 years as a state representative, recently was named chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee for 2013, the only incoming freshman to be named to chair a Senate committee.

Senate District 39 includes the following other counties: Greeley, Wichita, Hamilton, Kearny, Stanton, Grant, Haskell, Morton and Stevens counties.

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