Things just kept getting better and better for Republicans on election night.
First the state’s congressional races were called, with the party easily maintaining three seats. The fourth, held by U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, was a tighter race for the Democrat than many expected.
Then President Donald Trump won the state, eventually pulling away to a comfortable margin of victory, albeit one smaller than in his 2016 win.
Shortly thereafter, Roger Marshall defeated Barbara Bollier to ensure that Pat Roberts’ U.S. Senate seat stayed in Republican hands. He too eventually settled at a 12-point margin of victory.
And then, as the evening wound down, the party beat back Democratic attempts to break Republican supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Despite needing to pick up only one seat in the Kansas House to overturn that chamber’s veto-proof majority, Democrats appear to have lost seats, although the exact number hangs in the balance as final mail votes are tabulated.
In the Kansas Senate, Republicans gained no ground but prevented a potential hemorrhaging of seats in suburban Kansas City, Kan.
"In some ways it was almost a mini red wave in Kansas," said Bob Beatty, chair of the political science department at Washburn University.
Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, admitted at the state GOP election night event that he was surprised the party had as decisive an evening as it did, especially in the state-level races.
"It was an incredible night," he said, as the crowd of revelers began to thin out, taking their party elsewhere.
He noted the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on being able to make inroads with voters, praising the party’s candidates for the connection they formed with Kansans on the topic.
"I think people are frustrated with the economy, they’re frustrated with education, kids not being in school," Longbine said.
Republican successes in Kansas aren’t unusual, given roughly the 2-to-1 advantage they hold in voter registration numbers.
But Democrats were confident that their major fundraising hauls in both the U.S. Senate race and many Statehouse tilts could help take the sheen off the state’s ruby red reputation.
It wasn’t to be.
"The story of the night was Republican voters beat Democrat money," said David Kensinger, a Republican consultant.
Experts agree that the performances should not be a surprise given the penumbra Trump cast over the down-ballot races. His presence on the ballot appeared to turn out voters in spots key for both Marshall and legislative candidates alike.
Take Sedgwick County. A New York Times/Siena College poll from late October framed the race in the Wichita area as a tossup between Marshall and Bollier.
When the dust settled on Tuesday night, Marshall won the county by 11 points.
Moreover, two GOP Kansas Senate candidates won key races and a Republican unseated incumbent state Rep. Stephanie Yeager, D-Wichita.
"The Republicans busted, they did," said Chris Pumpelly, a Democratic strategist in Wichita. "They motivated their people and the top of the ticket really matters."
Jared Suhn, a Kansas City-based GOP strategist, said the decision by many Democrats to forgo in-person campaigning hurt them.
While Bollier held socially distanced rallies with voters and others knocked on doors, others went for phone or virtual interactions in an effort to prioritize safety during the pandemic.
"I completely believe that was one of the single biggest drivers," he said. "It wasn’t just that Republicans were out on people’s doorsteps ... and the Democrats weren’t. But because Republicans were also having those conversations at the doorsteps, they were much more in tune with what the electorate was concerned about."
That meant more talking about bouncing back from business closures and the economic fallout from the pandemic rather than messaging on other issues favored by Democrats, such as Medicaid expansion.
The election wasn’t necessarily a referendum on the state’s pandemic response, Republicans believe, but did give them a chance to give voters a clear blueprint for the state’s future.
"The Democrats were largely, quite frankly, trying to litigate what happened in the past," Suhn said.
Kristen O’Shea was one candidate able to overcome a fundraising gap in the race’s final days. While many expected her race against Democrat Tobias Schlingensiepen to be tight, O’Shea won by 20 points.
"I think people are speaking up and saying, ’Hey, we want our freedoms’ ... and I think voters came out and spoke to that," O’Shea said Tuesday night.
Rep. Chris Croft, R-Overland Park, and the chair of the House Republicans’ campaign arm, said those issues would be a priority for the supermajority next legislative session.
"With many families across our state still without jobs and struggling to make ends meet, the legislature will go right to work rebuilding our state’s economy, creating a tax and regulatory environment where businesses can again thrive and give our workers quality jobs," Croft said in a text message.
And while Gov. Laura Kelly has said she will attempt to push key portions of her agenda, including Medicaid expansion, even with Republican supermajorities persisting, that will likely be a tough task.
The demise of many moderate Republicans in the August primaries means that Democrats will have fewer potential allies across the aisle to work with next session.
But Beatty said it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Republican dominance is ironclad looking ahead in the months and years to come, with Kelly likely to be involved in a hotly contested reelection bid in 2022.
Elections in presidential years see far different voter behavior than midterms, he said. And Democrats would have a chance to go back to the drawing board on their messaging.
"Thinking about what we know and what the parties know, off-year elections for Democrats in Kansas are a really big opportunity," he said.
Suhn agreed that Republicans shouldn’t take the success they saw Tuesday for granted. But he also didn’t think maintaining the momentum would require a complicated formula either.
"Clearly this election cycle delivered Republicans, I would argue, a mandate on their policies and on their agenda," he said. "But I don’t think their battle is over. And we’re going to have to keep fighting and defending those and telling those messages as we go forward to make sure these victories hold."
Kensinger agreed, noting that those who believed that high-turnout elections might benefit Democrats, even in areas like suburban Kansas City, Kan., were refuted on Tuesday.
While final turnout numbers won’t be known until next week, 68% of registered voters cast their ballot in the presidential race as of Wednesday morning.
With more advance ballots trickling in, turnout could clear the 70% benchmark projected by the Secretary of State’s Office, a figure they termed as "historic."
"This was a massive turnout, this was the biggest turnout in state history by a large margin," Kensinger said. "It just shows Kansas is a center-right state. We had the biggest turnouts in the state history and we had one of the biggest Republican nights in state history."