Story 3 You Never Know
Summer, 2002: With Republicans in the White House and dominating Congress, the War on Terror makes politicians in either party eager to follow the President's lead. But even among Republicans, rivalries and political disagreements still have to play out in summer primaries. David Kensinger, Sam Brownback's Chief of Staff and a man who loves the game of politics, takes a vacation from Capitol Hill to guide to three conservative Kansas candidates who challenge mainstream party nominees. His roller-coaster summer ends on a surprising election night that previews a deep divide in the Republican Party.
Summer 2002 seemed a sunny time for the Republican Party. They controlled the administration and the House of Representatives, and America's new War on Terror was making most politicians in either party eager to follow the White House's lead. But even within Republicans ranks, rivalries and political disagreements would have to play out in the summer contests known as primaries. And in a particularly red state like Kansas -- where people sometimes say there are two parties, both Republican -- primaries can count more than a general election.
David Kensinger, a man born to the love of the great game of politics, is Chief Of Staff to Kansas' famously conservative Republican Senator Sam Brownback. During primary season, he takes brief bursts of time off from his Capitol Hill day job to act as unofficial consultant and guide to three candidates in his home state's primaries. All three are conservatives, challengers to the moderate Republicans favored by the mainstream state party, and the contenders Senator Brownback is hoping will win.
David's roller-coaster summer, racing from Washington back to Kansas for pep talks, quick campaign course corrections, fundraising blitzes and finally election day, is a remarkably compact window into the modern theory and practice of running a political campaign. With George Stafford, another veteran campaign operative and David's longtime Sinatra-singing buddy at the wheel, David keeps the road hot from Topeka to Kansas City managing a good eye on all three races. But because Topeka is where David grew up -- and figured out the he'd be wiser to play on his skills as a champion debater than aim for professional baseball -- the pleasure of home is vivid too.
David and George are both pros. With all their best efforts, they never forget which candidates are likely winners, which just too much to hope for. They do their best with and for each candidate, but large cultural and social factors play in too. Election night turns out to be long -- and the winners are not clear right away. By the end of election night, votes that reflect some of the strains and fissures over the direction the Republican Party to come, the same divide making front page news today, have decided the races.