Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rematch Fades from Democratic Spotlight

Party and PAC money spigot shuts to a trickle as Boyda again challenges Ryun.
By MATT STEARNS, The Star’s Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON Want an introduction to the harsh vagaries of political life? Look no further than Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District.

There, Democratic hopeful Nancy Boyda has gone from a well-funded national party darling to an afterthought in one political cycle. Democrats in Washington are increasingly confident this year that they will win control of the House, pointing to the biggest field of potential seat pick-ups since the 1994 Republican landslide. As many as 40 seats are in play, experts say.
Yet that confidence has not spread to the eastern Kansas district, represented since 1996 by Republican Jim Ryun.

Boyda has received scant support from the national party and the rich political action committees that finance Democratic campaigns. Party leaders brought more than 30 top House challengers to Washington on Wednesday for meetings and fundraisers; Boyda was not among them.

Steve Boyda, the candidate’s husband and campaign manager, dismissed the lack of national interest, saying: “We have chosen to run the campaign based on what she’s heard from voters here.”

Contrast that with 2004, Boyda’s first attempt to unseat Ryun.

Back then, Boyda got hundreds of thousands of dollars from those national sources, including more than $150,000 from Big Labor. That, along with nearly $300,000 of her own money, helped Boyda outraise Ryun, unheard of for a challenger. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland campaigned for Boyda in Topeka, and his PAC contributed $7,500. Her campaign team included national operatives known for running competitive Democratic campaigns in tough districts.

A former Republican and pharmaceutical company executive, Boyda called Ryun too ideological for the district. She ran as a pro-gun, fiscally conservative Democrat. Republicans were concerned enough that Ryun was one of several GOP members of Congress who split $1 million from a collection of big business PACs.

Ryun won 56 percent to 41 percent, his closest race.

Boyda lags in fundraising, raising $300,000 this cycle compared with $1.1 million to the whole of the last election. Ryun has $592,000 and had $976,000 last round, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports. Labor has contributed only $22,000 to Boyda. Nothing has come from national party sources. Boyda has put $51,000 of her own money into this year’s campaign.

So why — in a year in which Democrats are energized and Republicans demoralized; in a state Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean boasts is ripe for plucking; in an election with popular Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius heading the ticket — are national Democrats ignoring Ryun-Boyda II?

A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declined to comment.
But others say Boyda underperformed in 2004, losing by 15 points despite her funding. Compare that with the performance of 2002 Democratic nominee Dan Lykins. He spent less than $40,000 and won 37 percent, only four points worse than Boyda.

“If you make that kind of effort and you still have a 15 percent gap, that’s not much of a resume builder to come back the second time,” explained Burdett Loomis, political scientist at the University of Kansas.

Plus, having so many other seats in play works against Boyda because the national party can focus where it might see better opportunities, Loomis said.

For its part, Boyda’s campaign blames the 2004 loss on all that national advice. “Two years ago, her campaign was basically run out of Washington, D.C.,” said Steve Boyda, a lawyer. “Her race this year is pure grassroots Democratic Kansas politics. It’s based on Kansas priorities … as opposed to someone from Washington, D.C., telling you how to run your campaign.”
As for the fundraising, Steve Boyda said that his wife wanted to be an independent vote for Kansans, beholden to neither national party nor powerful interest groups, and “with big money comes commitments.”

“We’re raising enough money to run the campaign in the way it ought to be run,” he said.
Rather than expensive television ads, the campaign will send out detailed 12-page tabloids focused on substantive issues, Steve Boyda said.

The 2nd District, which covers eastern Kansas from the Nebraska to the Oklahoma borders, except the Kansas City metro area, was held by Democrat Jim Slattery from 1982 until 1994. Sebelius carried it with 57 percent in the 2002 election.

But Ryun has generally exceeded 60 percent. And in 2004, President Bush won the district with 59 percent. Ryun campaign manager Jeffrey Black would not comment on Boyda’s campaign, saying only: “Jim’s message and record are right for the 2nd District, and we believe that will resonate with voters on Election Day.”

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