David Miller's Gambit
By Kevin L. Groenhagen

from the May 8 issue of the Lawrence Business Ledger


David Miller's Gambit

   On Tuesday Kansas GOP chairman David Miller
formally announced that he would challenge Gov.
Bill Graves in the gubernatorial primary contest.

   As individuals, it is difficult to imagine two
men who have less in common than Graves and
Miller. As The Wall Street Journal reported on
April 24, “Gov. Graves is the wealthy scion of a
family that made its fortune in the trucking
business and, at 45 years old, looks polished and
urbane.” Graves also married money. His wife is
the daughter of Ron Richey, chief executive
officer of the Alabama-based Torchmark
Corporation, an insurance and financial services
holding company. In 1997, Forbes magazine reported
that Richey’s total compensation was more than
$1.5 million.

   Miller, on the other hand, is the product of
modest means who grew up in Eudora, Kan. He and
his wife, Marjorie, operate an independent
insurance agency.

   The two men also hold very different views on
fiscal and social issues. While Miller has
advocated more significant tax cuts, Graves has
pushed cuts large enough to avoid public outcry,
yet small enough to keep state government growing
by 20 percent during 1998 and 1999. Of course, the
two also disagree on social issues such as
abortion, gun control, and education.

   In addition to cultural and ideological
differences between Miller’s conservatives and
Graves’ moderates, this race has a personal
element. In 1990 Miller ran on the ticket with
gubernatorial candidate Nestor Weigand against
then-Gov. Mike Hayden. Although the GOP leadership
took sides in the primary and refused to share
voter information with Miller and Weigand, the
conservative challengers lost by just 7,600 votes
of out 310,000 cast. Hayden was then defeated by
Democrat Joan Finney the following November.

   Five years later, the conservatives denied
Graves, who had just won election to his first
term, the opportunity to pick his own party
chairman. Despite the opposition of Sen. Bob Dole,
the conservatives prevailed and Miller became
chairman. One of Miller’s first acts was to bury
the hatchet and announce that he would support
Dole should the senator decide to run for
president in 1996.

   While Miller worked for party unity by supporting
Dole, Graves chose the more divisive road in 1996
by selecting Sheila Frahm to replace Dole in the
U.S. Senate. This was done after Sam Brownback had
announced his intention to run for Dole’s vacated
seat. (For the good of the party, many Republicans
believe that Graves should have appointed
then-Rep. Pat Roberts to succeed Dole.) Graves
then actively campaigned for Frahm and about 10
legislative candidates during the primary
campaign. “It was incredible to see that happen,”
Miller recently told The Wall Street Journal.
“[Y]ou’re out there getting killed by the guy
who’s the leader of the party,” he said concerning
conservative candidates.

   Graves further alienated conservatives in 1996
with two impertinent statements. First, when
conservatives pushed for larger tax cuts, Graves
responded, “What part of ‘Hell, no’ don’t you
understand?” Later, when asked about the GOP
platform, Graves answered, “Other than 20 things,
I think it’s a great platform.”

   Obviously, Miller has finally grown tired of
bending over backwards to accommodate the
moderates. While he has stated that his goal is to
promote conservative principles in his race
against Graves, Miller also says that he is
running to win. In order to do this, he must
overcome two obstacles—Graves’ popularity and
money—and the “extremist” smear. This may not be
as difficult as many suggest.

   Graves is too popular: The point is often made
that Graves’ approval rating, which is said to be
above 80 percent, is too formidable an obstacle
for any primary opponent to overcome.

   Miller’s supporters counter this point by noting
how quickly George Bush’s 90-percent approval
rating dissipated. However, it is very unlikely
that Graves’ approval rating will suffer a similar
fate in the three months between now and the
August primary. But must it?

   During the 1996 primary campaign between U.S.
Senate candidates Sheila Frahm and Sam Brownback,
Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research, Inc. found
that 67 percent of Kansans responded that Graves
was doing a good or excellent job. Of the 40
governors checked by Mason-Dixon that summer, only
three had higher ratings. Mason-Dixon pollster Del
Ali stated at that time that, if Frahm lost, “The
perception that [Graves] can swing an election
with his popularity would go right out the

   Despite Graves’ popularity in 1996, the candidate
he supported, Frahm, was defeated by Brownback,
who received much of his support from social

   Graves has too much money: It has been reported
that Graves already has $910,000 on hand. Like his
popularity, Graves’ campaign war chest is seen as
an overwhelming obstacle.

   It must be remembered that Frahm started out with
huge advantage over Brownback in 1996. “Some
political observers suggested that she reaped
perhaps $1 million in free publicity as a result
of a slew of newspaper stories and television
interviews after her appointment by Graves,
reported the Kansas City Star’s Steve Kraske.
Again, with the grass-roots support of social
conservatives, Brownback managed to overcome
Frahm’s initial advantage.

   David Miller is too extreme to become governor:
If Graves’ supporters believed that popularity and
money were enough for the governor to win a
primary election, the “extremist” smear would be
unnecessary. However, it was unleashed
even before Miller made his bid official.

   “Let’s get the gloves on and let’s go
at it,” Kansas Senate President Dick Bond,
R-Overland Park, said last month. “If the people
of Kansas want an extremist for governor, then
let’s find out.” The “extremist” Bond was
referring to, of course, was Miller.

    Last weekend, Bond again lashed out at Miller
and his supporters when he said that Miller could
win with a light vote “because there are enough
extremists to elect him if regular Republicans
don’t vote.” Not only did Bond insult Miller’s
supporters, he said that these supporters are not
even regular Republicans.

   Bond is using the word “extremist” as an
“anti-concept.” According to Ayn Rand in the essay
“‘Extremism,’ or The Art of Smearing,” the purpose
of anti-concepts is “to obliterate certain
concepts without public discussion.” Bond and
other moderate Republicans realize that if Miller
and Graves engage in legitimate public discussion,
Miller stands a better chance of being victorious
in August.

   Unfortunately for Graves and his henchmen, the
“extremist” anti-concept doesn’t really work all
that well. It didn’t work when Nelson Rockefeller
employed it against Barry Goldwater in 1964. It
didn’t work when Democrats nationwide screamed
“extremist” in 1994. And it didn’t work when
Republican Ed Eilert and, later, Democrat Judy
Hancock used it against Vince Snowbarger in 1996.
In fact, Bond and liberal columnists such as the
Capital-Journal’s Dick Snider, who in March called
Miller and his supporters “Wing Nuts,” may find
that their insults will only serve to energize
Miller’s boosters and turn off more moderate

   Will Miller be able to prevail over the obstacles
of popularity and money and the “extremist” smear?
We cannot be certain. In fact, there is much
uncertainty involved with this race. For example,
regardless of the winner in August, will the GOP
enter November as a unified party as it did in
1996? Or will a bitter intraparty battle allow a
less-qualified Democrat to become governor, as was
the case in 1990? Will the winner’s supporters
seek revenge against the supporters of the loser?
Or will supporters from both camps instead expend
their energies on defeating Democrats in the
general election? Will Republican candidates such
as Vince Snowbarger get caught in the line of
fire? Or will these candidates find a way to stay
out of the fray? Who knows? The only thing that is
certain this spring is that David Miller’s gambit
will create a lot of heat in Kansas this summer.

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