CNN/TIME AllPolitics Vote '96

Dole's Senate Seat Hotly Contested

TOPEKA, Kan. (AllPolitics, Nov. 3) -- The suddenness of Bob Dole's announcement in May that he would resign from the Senate to concentrate on his presidential campaign set off turmoil in Kansas politics. The result has been a second Senate contest that is more closely watched -- and probably more competitive -- than the regularly scheduled one to fill Nancy Kassebaum's seat.

The Republican nominee, freshman Rep. Sam Brownback, won a bitterly fought special primary Aug. 6 over interim Sen. Sheila Frahm, who had been appointed in June by Republican Gov. Bill Graves.

Despite Dole's presence at the top of the ticket and a Republican hold on both Senate seats that dates back to 1938, Brownback has maintained only the narrowest of leads over Democratic nominee Jill Docking in recent polls.

Brownback's primary campaign exposed an ideological rift within the Kansas Republican Party. A member of the conservative activist wing, Brownback unseated the more moderate Frahm. Now, he must woo her supporters to keep them from drifting into Docking's camp, while at the same time maintaining the fervor of his conservative base.

Brownback has drawn strong support from Kansas' Christian conservative movement. He opposes abortion rights while Docking (like Frahm) supports them.

Yet Brownback has made some progress in binding his party's wounds. Graves and Frahm have since rallied behind Brownback's candidacy and appeared in broadcast ads for the nominee.

Brownback himself is emphasizing economics and government reform on a par with social issues. A vocal member of the House Republican freshman class, he has argued in favor of what he calls the "three R's": reduce the size of the federal government, reform Congress and return to values. In addition, he has tried to brand Docking a liberal.

But Docking is espousing a centrist message in which she calls herself an "independent voice" for Kansas and charges that it is Brownback whose views are out of the mainstream.

Docking, a stockbroker, argues that Brownback has not voted in line with the priorities of middle class and working families, and that he has lost touch with his Kansas roots. She is trying to link Brownback with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the Christian Coalition.

Based in Wichita, Docking has been trying to reach out to moderate Republicans, particularly women. She easily defeated former Gov. Joan Finney in the Democratic primary. While Docking herself is a new face in Kansas politics, the Docking name is a familiar one. Her husband, Thomas, served as lieutenant governor, and his father and grandfather served as Kansas governors.

Congressional Quarterly contributed to this report.

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