State Sen. Jean Schordof was a pretty typical victim. She was challenged by Witchita city councilman Michael O'Donnell, who told reporter Dion Leftler that the incumbent "doesn’t want to do anything to stop Obamacare." Schordof outraised O'Donnell, $115,000 to $72,000, but the Kansas Chamber PAC spent $36,000 to help the challenger, more than eight times as much as a teacher's union spent to help Schordof. So O'Donnell won, and won easy -- 2,745 votes to 1,897 votes, in a district that's home to around 70,000 people.So the moderate raised $115k to the conservative's $72k. The Kansas chamber gave the conservative $36k, bringing his total to $108k, still less than the moderate. Even with incumbency, a few thousand dollars from the teachers' unions, and doubtless more than a couple of crossover Democrats who voted her way in the primary, the moderate incumbent was still able to garner barely 40% of the vote.
David Wiegel concludes that this little story problem demonstrates, "how far money can go in a small state election."
And he's absolutely almost correct. Oh, he's wrong in concluding that $36k in PAC money made the difference - the incumbent still raised and spent more money than her conservative challenger. But he would be correct in concluding that the $36k made money unimportant, as it allowed both campaigns an even playing field. It also proved that when money is not the issue, a decent conservative is likely to win 60% of the vote.
Commentators bemoaning the Great Kansas Republican Purge of 2012 have missed a lesson that conservatives have known for a long time: it was only the moderate advantage in name recognition, gerrymandered incumbency, and money that allowed them such a stranglehold over the legislative process. Now that those advantages are all but gone, rainmaking moderates are for the most part exposed as second-tier candidates.