Bob Knight could be the next governor of Kansas.
It would be a new day in Kansas politics if a seven-term mayor of Wichita won the governor's chair. Knight might make it happen.
He has cultivated many of us in the towns surrounding Wichita, and has done a good job of it. The old love-hate relationship with Kansas' largest city has turned toward partnership.
First, Knight has to win the Republican nomination. He made his big move last week by signing up Speaker of the House Kent Glasscock as his lieutenant-governor running mate.
Glasscock is from Manhattan. More than pull in the polls or even legislative leadership, Glasscock brings Knight neutrality in northeast Kansas. Some leaders there dubbed Knight an enemy after he tried - hard - to raise their electric rates.
Now they will take another look.
Knight, by the way, says of his ardent attempt to get Western Resources to spread its costs evenly up and down its service area, "Don't you want a governor who would fight like that for you?"
Knight is a fighter.
There are folks in the Wichita area who feel bruised by his sometimes relentless rhetoric. Sedgwick County commissioner Tom Winters said as much of himself recently.
But Winters is a fan of Knight's.
The two have worked together to meld services and support industry. Knight is nothing if not a devotee of the Wichita industrial community. He is also a leader in downtown development.
Knight's latest coup is getting Air Tran to town. A lot of us in the region are glad to have a new low-cost airline at Mid-Continent.
Bob Knight's greatest strength is his resilience. He plays on a broad political field, from opposing abortion to beating up on federal bureaucrats; he takes risks, but is rarely caught off base.
We saw this when Knight armed himself with the gun lobby in 1995 to beat Elma Broadfoot for mayor. Then he returned to championing Wichita's home-rule right to ban loaded guns in pickups passing through town.
We saw it again when he and his city manager, Chris Cherches, ran with the hounds of Operation Rescue. That was the worst moment in Bob Knight's tenure, in my opinion. Rather than tighter police protection against Randall Terry's tactics, Knight and Cherches took the approach that everyone deserved a chance to chain himself or herself to a Volkswagen.
Knight and his team - with a new police chief - did much better when some of Terry's protesters returned last year. The clinics on East Kellogg were only harassed, and the law was upheld.
Knight's challenge is to beat state Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, a savvy conservative who will have more help at the grass roots, but less money for television. Wichita TV is Knight's not-so-secret weapon in western Kansas, where over 40 percent of a GOP primary vote is usually cast.
Senate President Dave Kerr holds the key to Knight's success.
If Kerr decides to run, Shallenburger's "natural" 25 to 30 percent of the primary vote can overcome a divided mainstream. But Kerr and Glasscock are allies, and after all the wars they have fought together with the Republican right, it is hard to see Kerr spoiling a Knight-Glasscock ticket.
Shallenburger is no slouch.
He has claimed Johnson County by adding Dave Lindstrom, a former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end, to his ticket. Lindstrom brings fresh energy.
Lindstrom is a political neophyte, but he has something going for him. He didn't vote to raise taxes in the Legislature this year.
Voting to raise taxes is Glasscock's vulnerability. He brings it bag and baggage to Knight. The upside, of course, is grateful school people - although they cannot be expected to do much for Knight in a Republican primary.
Shallenburger will no doubt dwell on his view that state spending could have been cut more and a tax increase avoided. This theme will play well at rallies and may gain strength as voters' education anxiety fades.
But Knight, as usual, is on the side of the angels. He supports public education - as does Shallenburger - and has the brass to embrace the lawmaker who most prominently hiked taxes to pay for it.
It is this kind of boldness that gives Knight a chance to beat Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius, the sure Democratic nominee.
Knight will have to run a race against Shallenburger that does not leave blood on the ground. If he wins the primary, Knight needs at least half-comfortable conservatives behind him for the general election.
He will have to make new friends for Wichita fast - especially in Topeka and Johnson County. This means mobilizing the Bill Graves well-worn network, since Knight has none of his own - another challenge in northeast Kansas.
The George W. Bush umbrella over Republicans of all stripes could be Knight's - or Shallenburger's - ace. But the president's fortunes between now and Aug. 6 depend on so many unknowns that the only camp meeting that counts will be the one Bob Knight tries to organize between Republican conservatives and moderates in September in Kansas.