Trounced at Polls, Kansas GOP Is Still Plagued by Infighting

Party Puts Ousted Official In His Opponent’s Old Post

Phill Kline is not one to slink away — and the ideological wars inside the Kansas Republican Party show no sign of ending.

The fiercely antiabortion Republican attorney general in Kansas lost his reelection bid in November when moderate Republicans voted in droves for Paul Morrison, a longtime Johnson County district attorney who became a Democrat in hopes of vanquishing Kline.

Statewide, Kline got barely 4 in 10 votes. In Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, his loss was more dramatic. That made it especially shocking after the election when Republican precinct leaders in the county chose Kline to finish the final two years of Morrison’s term as prosecutor.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), a vocal Kline foe, refused to sign his nomination papers, a ceremonial task, lambasting a “small narrow group of partisan political operatives” for choosing him. At the Westside Family Church in Lenexa, after precinct leaders backed Kline over a Morrison aide 316 to 291, Republicans showed just how divided they are.

“The moment Phill Kline got the nomination, half the room got up and walked out,” said Scott Schwab, the county GOP chairman. “It wasn’t so much yelling or cussing. They threw up their arms and said, ‘What do we do now?’ ”

Kline’s reincarnation as Johnson County prosecutor reveals the depth of the continuing Republican split in Kansas and suggests challenges faced by the GOP nationwide as it tries to recover from its Nov. 7 losses and build toward 2008.

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