Moran leads Tiahrt in own poll

Rep. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenators inch forward on federal privacy bill Hillicon Valley: Dueling bills set stage for privacy debate | Google co-founders step down from parent company | Advocates rally for self-driving car bill | Elon Musk defamation trial begins | Lawsuit accuses TikTok of sharing data with China Advocates hopeful dueling privacy bills can bridge partisan divide MORE is claiming an early lead over Rep. Todd Tiahrt in a clash between two high-profile House Republicans from Kansas hoping to win the GOP nomination for their state’s open Senate seat.

Both members of Congress are running to replace retiring Sen. Sam Brownback (R), who is widely expected to seek the governor's mansion.

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The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for Moran’s campaign, shows Moran leading Tiahrt by a 41-percent-to-25-percent margin among 500 Republicans who said they were likely to cast ballots in the primary. About one-third of GOP primary voters remain undecided, but the early lead shows up in each of Kansas’s media markets.

Both Moran, serving his seventh term, and Tiahrt, beginning his eighth term, are seen overwhelmingly more favorably than not by Republican voters. Moran is viewed in a positive light by 49 percent of GOP voters and Tiahrt by 42 percent, with just 4 percent and 9 percent seeing the two unfavorably, respectively.

The poll, conducted Jan. 13-14, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent.

Moran’s massive First District, which covers about three-quarters of the state’s land mass, is more heavily Republican than Tiahrt’s Wichita-based Fourth District. But both have won their past elections with ease, and both took the opportunity in 2008 to stockpile cash for the battle ahead.

Moran begins the 2010 campaign with $2.5 million in the bank through the end of 2008, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. Tiahrt, who has yet to file his year-end report, kept just over $1 million in the bank.

Either lawmaker would be formidable against any Democrat running in heavily Republican Kansas — even if Democrats' dream candidate, term-limited Gov. Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusJerry Moran: 'I wouldn't be surprised' if Pompeo ran for Senate in Kansas Mark Halperin inks book deal 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care MORE, were to run for the seat. But if the Moran-Tiahrt primary turns ugly and the candidates deplete their resources on each other, a ruby-red state could turn into a Democratic pickup opportunity.

Unfortunately for Republicans, Kansas has a reputation for producing bitter intra-party contests. Republican centrists, based most prominently in Johnson County around the Kansas City suburbs, have long feuded with more conservative Republicans elsewhere in the eastern half of the state.

The feuds split the party enough for Sebelius to win in 2002 and 2006, and have given other statewide Democratic candidates the chance to win in recent years.

Tiahrt is viewed as solidly in the more conservative camp, though he has never engendered the anger many centrists harbor toward those further to the right. Moran hails from the western side of the state, which has less of a reputation for GOP divisions.

Still, even with a divisive Republican primary, Sebelius or any other Democrat will likely face a truly uphill climb in 2010. The state has elected just one Democratic senator since ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which provided for the direct popular election of senators. 

That Democrat, George McGill, won election to a partial term in 1930 and to a full term in 1932. McGill lost his reelection bid in 1938, as well as three subsequent Senate elections.