Wichitas mayoral election is supposed to be nonpartisan, but that virtually disappeared in this years campaign. Mayor-elect Brandon Whipple has served since 2012 as a Democratic member of the statehouse. Before that, he was vice-chair of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party. His winning strategy came straight from the Kansas Democrats playbook.Whipple downplayed his party affiliation and played up accountability and good government, while the citys Republican establishment tried to throw their weight behind incumbent Jeff Longwell. Whipples upset looks remarkably similar to the gubernatorial campaigns of Governors Kathleen Sebelius and Laura Kelly, both Democrats who pulled off wins in deep-red Kansas.
Like Sebelius and Kelly, Whipple won his election by emphasizing themes that cross party lines, such as improving transportation and putting the citys budget online. He also benefitted from the ham-fisted gaffes of his opponents. Controversy surrounding Longwells involvement in a last-minute, no-bid contract to upgrade a water treatment plant made the perfect foil for Whipples focus on efficient administration. At 37 years old, Whipples relative youth also reinforced his time-for-a-change message. Having been involved in political action since college, Whipple knew how to stick to his message. The same cannot be said for his opponents supporters, who miscalculated badly.
The Sedgwick County Republican Party tried to help Longwell. Unaccountable dark money funded a harsh attack ad against Whipple, making unfounded allegations about his sex life. Apparently that was not bad enough, so two area Republicans then got into a protracted, heavily publicized, and irresolvable you say-I say squabble about who was responsible for the ad. This mess probably helped Whipple not to mention his libel lawsuit. Meanwhile, a write-in candidate backed by two former mayors helped to split the vote. Whipple won with 46%, a plurality but not a majority.
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