“We're declining to participate in the July 19th, which is tomorrow, forum being conducted by the Wichita Metro Chamber,” announced State Senator Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.  Three state senators from the Wichita metro area say if the chamber won't endorse them they won't show up.

Campaign season is beginning to heat up, with voters headed to the polls in just under three weeks.  That has candidates seeking out high powered endorsements.  But why?

The power of an endorsement is not immediately visible.  Only a few organizations, such as the National Rifle Association or the AARP can guarantee votes at the ballot box when they give an endorsement.  But even less powerful groups, like the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, can make a big difference in a campaign when they endorse, or don't endorse, a candidate.

“Generally speaking, your average voter is not particularly interested in finding out what groups have endorsed or opposed a particular candidate,” said Friends University Political Science Professor Dr. Russell Arben Fox.

So why do candidates make such a big deal about endorsements?

“What does matter to voters is whether they feel as though the candidate in question is taking the sorts of positions that they can relate to,” Fox said.  “Endorsing organizations can become the trigger for a lot of that information.”

That’s why when the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Jason Watkins says, “We are supporting candidates in this election cycle that are committed to growing the Kansas economy and creating jobs,” and then its political division doesn't endorse three incumbents it has before, those candidates get concerned.

Like State Senators Dick Kelsey, Jean Schodorf and Carolyn McGinn who say without an endorsement they won't participate in a forum sponsored by the chamber.

“Our decline comes very simply as a result of the decision by the Chamber to endorse and assist our opposing candidates in the upcoming primary,” said Sen. Kelsey.

“Because they know that the Chamber of Commerce is doing this to get the word out about their candidates, not for them,” Fox explained.

Fox says the impact of an endorsement, or loss of an endorsement, isn't always noticeable.  But in this case, the Chamber is already spreading the word in the districts of Kelsey, Schodorf and McGinn.

“In my district  this postcard came out with a picture of my opponent on it,” said Sen. McGinn at the press conference Wednesday, holding up the postcard.  “And it also delivered another postcard, same postcard, with Senator Schodorf's opponent.”

They're trying to combat that by highlighting their accomplishments in Topeka.

“I do want to reiterate that Senator McGinn, Senator Kelsey, and myself are pro-job legislators,” Sen. Schodorf said.  “That has always been our first goal for southcentral Kansas.”

The three candidates the Chamber's political committee is endorsing include State Representative Dan Kerschen, Wichita businessman Gary Mason and Wichita City Council member Michael O'Donnell.  The Chamber says it endorsed them based on their positions on business legislation.

Are Political Endorsements Effective?