And it goes without saying that an incumbent stuck at 40 percent is in an unhappy place, which is what all the polling has shown. In October, SurveyUSA found Davis ahead by a similar 43-39 margin, but perhaps most telling, a Republican internal released earlier this month only had Brownback at 42, with Davis at 31. So why is Brownback in such dire straits? Well, there actually is such a thing as being too conservative, even in a state like Kansas, which until recently was home to a distinct branch of more moderate Republican office-holders.
Brownback and his allies snuffed out that wing of the GOP in the 2012 primaries, but the voters who supported those moderates didn't disappear. Instead, they've watched in disgust as the ultra-conservatives have rammed through radical legislation, including big tax cuts and spending cuts that have savaged education funding, among other things. Indeed, even many self-identified Republicans disapprove of Brownback's performance. And now Kansans have the chance to take these feelings out on their governor, who was never popular to begin with and was fortunate to ride the 2010 wave into office.
Of course, the undecided voters in PPP's survey lean heavily Republican—60 percent say they supported Mitt Romney versus just 27 percent who voted for Barack Obama. And ordinarily, that would offer a decent cushion for a Republican in a red state. But you can't simply allocate all of those Romney voters to Brownback, since they only say they're supporting him by a 63-16 margin, which is very weak. (Obama backers are 78-9 in favor of Davis.) And even if you did, Brownback would only wind up with a 51-47 advantage.
There is, in other words, something the matter in Kansas, but for once, the problem may redound to the Democrats' advantage. While Davis still has a lot to prove, and the Sunflower State's demographics still offer some insurance to Brownback, we no longer think the incumbent is likely to win. We've long had our eye on this race as a potential upset, and the polling has now demonstrated that Brownback's advantage has narrowed. If there's a blue state analog, it's Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, whose personal unpopularity has made him exceptionally vulnerable for re-election. Brownback's not quite there yet, but we're moving the race to Lean Republican to reflect his increasingly precarious position.