Third District Congressman Dennis Moore, a Democrat who defied political gravity by consistently winning in one of the wealthiest and most Republican Congressional districts in Republican Kansas, said this week he’s ending his high-wire act and won’t seek re-election in 2010.
Almost within minutes of his announcement, the frenzied field of Republican candidates for his seat doubled.
“It is time for a new generation of leadership to step forward,” Moore, who is in his sixth term, said in a written statement announcing his departure.
Although Moore prided himself on being a Blue Dog Democrat and touted his fiscally conservative credentials, he had a solid lock on his district. He was affectionately known as D MO -- because of his ability to bring federal money to the district, about $190 million for such things as flood control, transportation and social services; and for his constituent service and rapport with residents in the 3rd District, which includes Johnson and Wyandotte counties in the Kansas City Metro area, and part of Douglas County including part of Lawrence and the University of Kansas.
Moore is a member of the House Budget Committee and the Financial Services Committee, where as chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, he has conducted hearings on the Wall Street bailout and on reforming banking and financial regulations.
“I have always taken this responsibility very seriously,” Moore‘s statement said. “A public office is a public trust. This has been the most exciting and frustrating job I have ever had.
“Exciting because of the opportunities to do the right thing for our people, especially those who most need our support.
“Frustrating because of the strident partisanship which too often distracts Congress from squarely addressing the critical issues of our time.”
There have been some indications that Moore’s health prompted his retirement. His statement referred to the present term as tiring -- a term in which Congress has taken on issues that have proven unusually venomous, including health insurance. He cancelled town-hall meetings in his district this summer because of death threats. Global warming, economic stimulus and banking and financial reform have also stirred the political pot.
“But I have always sought to represent the moderate mainstream of the district, which I hope will also be the case with my successor,” he said -- a pointed slap at Kansas conservatives.
Kansas Republican Party chair Amanda Adkins said Moore is getting out while the getting is good
“President Obama and Nancy Pelosi’s agenda is dangerous for the country and giving Democrats in Washington unchecked powers is unsafe for America,” she said. “Voters in the 3rd District are very aware that Dennis Moore’s record of voting with Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leadership 98 percent of the time is out of touch with their values.”
The Republicans will come up with a good candidate who is pro-growth and pro-business and focused on the needs of Kansans, Adkins said.
But flipping the district to the Republican column might be tricky.
For years, Kansas Republicans have been bitterly divided between the Rotary Club wing of the party, business oriented but moderate on social issues; and the True Believers, characterized by unusually conservative social stances mixed with strong anti-tax fervor. The wings are often locked in mortal combat over the control and soul of the Kansas party and often forget about Democrats.
That’s why Kansas Democrats, who are outnumbered 2-1 in voter registration and are basically a third party in the state, have been surprisingly successful. Indeed many moderate Republicans have found more political success as Democrats, including governors Joan Finney and Mark Parkinson.
Moore, a former Johnson County prosecutor, got into Congress because he upset a moderate Republican incumbent caught in the Republican feuding.
Moore has managed to stay in office by wooing moderate Republicans irked by the parade of conservatives who have challenged Moore.
Members of the True Believers have already said they won’t support any Republican candidate who strays too far from their beliefs.
“There's no chance to elect a right-wing conservative here, and unfortunately that's where the Kansas Republican Party is right now; both in their party leadership and in their primary voters,” said Sarah Burris, editor of the Web site Forward Kansas.
“…I think that's why you see such a boondoggle in the GOP trying to find the right candidate.
“This isn't a teabagging district,” Burris said. “It went 51 percent for Obama last year and even at one of its most conservative points in 2004, Moore beat Kobach (conservative Republican Kris Kobach) 55/43.
“Last year he won it with 56.3 percent to 39.8 percent. In Douglas County alone Moore got 70 percent of the vote. You've got the moderates and the Democrats, all of which have been unified behind a good candidate for years.”
Before Moore’s announcement, there were four Republican candidates registered with the Federal Election Commission -- former state representative Patricia Lightner, who had raised the most money; Thomas Scherer, who’s put in $80,000 of his own money; John Rysavy and Daniel Gilyeat, who was featured on the ABC TV show “Extreme Home Makeover.“
Moore’s announcement sparked a free-for-all, prompting other announcements or expressions of interest from Republicans, mostly conservatives.
Kansas House Appropriations Committee chair Kevin Yoder started testing the waters. Nick Jordan, the former state senator who ran against Moore in 2008, said he’ll run, and Overland Park attorney Greg Musil, who ran against Moore in 2000, is mulling another run. Charlotte O’Hara, who has twice challenged Johnson County Commission chair Annabeth Surbaugh, said she may run.
For Democrats, the waters may be even muddier.
The party has seen several of its top elected officials take off without leaving a clear heir -- governors Kathleen Sebelius and her successor Parkinson and his lieutenant governor Troy Findley who said he won’t run in 2010, and Moore’s departure follows that baleful tradition.
But Democrats should hold on to the district and there shouldn’t be as much fighting, Burris said.
“There won't be as many Democrats file, simply because there isn't the strength in the Democratic Party to have 37 people file,” she said. “Similarly, the Kansas Democratic Party isn't as divided as the GOP and there's more consensus and fewer issues to debate.”
Those Democrats being mentioned include Kansas House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, former state representative R.J. Wilson of Shawnee, state senator and Teaparty Democrat Chris Steineger, whose name has also been mentioned for races for governor and secretary of state, and Kansas City, Kan./Wyandotte County Unified Government Mayor Joe Reardon.
Burris said her favorites are Reardon and state senator Tom Holland, a computer business owner from Baldwin City in Douglas County.
“ Both are incredibly well qualified and would represent the district well,” she said. “There are a number of remarkable people in that district that would make outstanding elected officials.”