Politics 2004Week of June 28


In nearly all races for Congress, if a candidate loses but comes close, the odds are strong that he or she will be the nominee in a subsequent rematch.

Two years ago, in Kansas’s 3rd District, Republican Adam Taff came within 7,000 votes of unseating Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore. Most observers expected that Taff would coast to nomination and election in a second race in a political version of Dorothy and Toto returning to their beloved Kansas at the close of The Wizard of Oz.

But instead of being greeted with cheers of “Run, Adam, run!,” the moderate GOPer and former U.S. Navy pilot has been met by conservatives’ asking him: “How could you lose a district like this last time?” The 3rd District has roughly 202,000 Republican voters to 128,000 Democrats. Given that Moore had won his first term in ’98 with 52% of the vote and was re-elected in 2000 with just 50%–when the district was less Republican–the Democratic incumbent seemed ripe for defeat in ’02.

“But Taff ignored conservative issues and that’s why he couldn’t win in [strongly Republican] Johnson County,” said Kris Kobach, who, along with middle-road former state legislator Patricia Lightner is also seeking the GOP nomination against Moore in the August 3 primary.

Conservative Kobach–a former Overland Park city councilman and counsel to Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft–has so far raised more than $300,000 and has been endorsed Gun Owners of America, Kansans for Life, and Wichita realtor Nestor Weigand–possibly the best-loved Kansas conservative, whose near-successful primary challenge to then-Gov. (1986-90) Mike Hayden in 1990 did as much to energize conservative volunteers in the state as Ronald Reagan’s challenge to Gerald Ford did nationally in 1976.


Abortion, gun control, the marriage amendment, and immigration–these are the issues 3rd District Republicans are focusing on. Just as these issues illustrate disparate points of view in the national Republican Party, they clearly delineate the differences between Taff and Kobach.

While Taff characterizes himself as “pro-choice,” Kobach is proudly pro-life and opposes abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. Taff has been quoted as saying that he is in favor of reauthorizing the ban on assault weapons, Kobach is decidedly against doing so.

And Taff is undecided about a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution. At a candidates’ forum in Prairie Village on February 22, he said: “Right now, I’m not out there saying that I think we need to amend the Constitution on this issue. I don’t think we’ve got to that level yet. So you’re not going to see me go out there and be a supporter of it necessarily.”

Kobach hit that hard. As he told me during a recent trip to Washington, “Just look where this issue has gone and what they are doing in states such as Massachusetts. We need a constitutional amendment on marriage and we need it fast.”

A former Eagle Scout who holds degrees from Harvard, Yale Law School, and Oxford University, Kobach is also an authority on immigration issues. During his stint with Ashcroft, he helped craft the National Security Entry Exit Registration System, which fingerprints aliens at the border and has been pivotal in the capture of some suspected terrorists.

Having debated the administration’s stands on immigration and homeland security on forums from the “Today Show” to Mike Barnicle’s MSNBC program, the conservative hopeful is very knowledgeable about these important subjects. He is for greater border security, tighter borders, and more cooperation with state and local authorities to block illegal immigration.

Asked where he differs from Taff on immigration, Kobach replied: “Taff says that the amnesty proposal is a ‘step in the right direction.’ I couldn’t disagree more. We learned in the 1980s and ’90s, that an amnesty only encourages more illegal immigration.”

Confident conservative Kobach is anxious to go toe-to-toe with liberal Democrat Moore (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 12%). Looking back at Taff’s last race, he told me: “He ignored the incumbent, and I have never seen an incumbent beaten by a purely, positive campaign. You can’t be a nice guy and win.”

(Kobach for Congress, P. O. Box 12224, Overland Park, Kan. 66282; 913-642-3903;


Monday, Sept. 27, 1999: Lancaster, Calif.–“The doctor finally told me I had to quit, but I don’t care if you or anyone else smokes–Be my guest!” That’s what California Republican State Sen. Pete Knight told me during a Republican luncheon in his home town. The decorated former U.S. Air Force pilot and two-fisted conservative had hated and fought draconian anti-smoking regulations enacted by his colleagues in recent years and made it clear, until he got doctors’ orders, that he was going to smoke in the state Capitol or wherever he chose. No one admonished the Los Angeles County lawmaker for putting his dislike for regulations into action.

That’s how many who knew William “Pete” Knight remembered him when he died May 7 at age 74 after a months-long battle with myelogenous leukemia. Just as he did while a test pilot and serving his country during two wars, Knight was the true-to-life version of Dr. Seuss’s Horton the Elephant: He meant what he said and said what he meant.

Indiana native Knight took to the skies during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was decorated for his daredevil encounters with Communist MiGs. As a test pilot in peacetime, he set a speed record on Oct. 3, 1967, for piloting a rocket-powered X-15-2A. The plane traveled 4,520 miles-per-hour and Knight became known as “the fastest man on earth” at the time.

Following his discharge, Knight settled in Southern California, worked for the aerospace industry, and plunged into local politics. In 1984, he was elected to the Palmdale City Council and went on to be his adopted town’s first elected mayor. Eight years later, he was elected to the state assembly and, in 1996, he moved on to the senate. Considered one of the most conservative lawmakers, Knight fought for lower taxes, smaller government, and less regulation, but he was best remembered as the father of Proposition 22, the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. The tireless Knight mobilized diverse church groups and community leaders together behind the nationally watched initiative, which was enacted by a 3-to-2 margin in 2000.

Perhaps Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put it succinctly when, in mourning Knight’s death, he hailed his life as that of a “Renaissance man.”


Montana Makeover: Amid scandals that have led to Republican Gov. Judy Mertz’s stepping down after one term, Montana GOPers last week demonstrated that they still have a preference for the most conservative of nominees. Secretary of State Bob Brown, easily the most conservative of the primary field, won the Republican nomination for governor with a majority of the votes over two opponents. This fall, he faces Whitefish rancher and Democratic nominee Brian Schweitzer, who drew a handsome 48% of the vote against Republican Sen. Conrad Burns four years ago.

Tina Triumphs in Texas: A long-anticipated battle royal at the Texas Republican convention was averted last week, when Waco lawyer Gina Parker announced she was abandoning her months-long challenge to State Chairman Tina Benkiser. Following Parker’s surprise announcement to the convention, delegates promptly elected Benkiser, who had succeeded retiring Chairman Susan Weddington last year, to a full term of her own. Both women were considered strong conservatives, although Benkiser had more endorsements from party officials (notably Weddington and Vice-Chairman David Barton) than did the challenger.

Schaffer Tops Coors: It sounded like a competition among beer names, but it was actually the Republican state convention in Colorado two weeks ago. By a vote of 61% to 39%, stalwart conservative former Rep. (1996-2002) Bob Schaffer (lifetime ACU rating: 97%) won the convention endorsement and was thus granted the top ballot line in the fall primary. Schaffer faces beer magnate Pete Coors in the race for nomination to the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. A just-completed poll of likely GOP primary voters commissioned by the Club for Growth showed Schaffer leading Coors by a slim margin of 34% to 31%, with the remainder undecided. The almost-certain Democratic nominee is two-term State Attorney General Ken Salazar.