The 2020 Kansas Republican primaries for the major federal offices — U.S. Senate and the four congressional districts — ended on Aug. 4, and if you feel like there were an unusual number of TV ads, well. you’re right. A new advertising record was set for a Republican primary season, with 100 different TV ads broadcast by the candidates and political action committees, including a record number by Senate candidate Bob Hamilton who aired 20 different ads.
In total, 13 GOP candidates were responsible for 78 different ads. With in-person campaigning limited this spring and televised debates virtually nonexistent (not one televised U.S. Senate debate!), TV ads became the primary vehicle for candidates to present their issue stances to primary voters.
So, it is a little surprising in an election that occurred in the midst of the most disruptive event to occur in Kansas and the United States since World War II, the coronavirus pandemic was not the most prominent issue presented. In fact, only five of the 13 candidates even mentioned the terms "coronavirus" or "virus" in their TV ads.
A content analysis of all 78 GOP primary TV ads shows the top issues mentioned:
• Pro-life/abortion: 39%.
• Law and order/support police/stop riots: 34%.
• Illegal immigration/border security and wall: 28%.
• Guns/2nd Amendment: 18%.
• Coronavirus: 14%.
However, even the 14% of ads that mentioned the coronavirus don’t all do so directly. Three of the five candidates who addressed the issue mentioned coronavirus as a way to piggyback onto other issues. In the U.S. Senate race, Kris Kobach presented the virus as a reason to sanction China and cut down on illegal immigration, a narrator intoning, "China lied and a deadly virus infected the world," and Kobach saying, "We must hold China accountable and build the wall."
Another Senate candidate, plumber Bob Hamilton, also couched the virus in anti-China terms and added media-bashing to the mix. In one ad, he says: "China is killing our people. The media calls that racist; I call it the truth."
In the 3rd District House race, Amanda Adkins did mention the virus by name but, like Hamilton, seemed to have other "enemies" in mind, saying, "Radical Democrats, the media, and coronavirus are devastating our economy — in that order."
On the other hand, two GOP candidates did address the issue. Roger Marshall, also a Senate candidate, talked about the virus as a tough challenge and one ad shows him volunteering at a health clinic for COVID patients.
And the real outlier: Dennis Taylor in the 2nd District House race. Taylor devoted four of his five ads to discussing coronavirus and even, amazingly, presented a specific policy proposal. "I support a virus tracing jobs program to stop a second wave and boost public confidence," Taylor said, and added, "The only thing we have to fear is the lack of a plan."
Although it may seem odd for so many GOP candidates to largely ignore the pandemic as a major issue, they weren’t punished for it by the electorate, so to them, it paid off. However, whether general election voters have the same concerns and priorities as Republican primary voters is something the GOP candidates may want to consider in the fall.
It also might be the best thing for the state and nation as well.
Bob Beatty is a political scientist in Topeka. He can be reached at email@example.com.