Kansas Governor Concedes GOP Nomination To Kris Kobach
After a week, the race for the GOP nomination for Kansas Governor is over. Now it's on to what could be an interesting General Election.
One week after a primary that resulted in a razor-thin margin between himself and his Republican rival, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has conceded the Republican nomination for Governor to controversial Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who will now go on to face the Democratic nominee and an independent in November’s General Election:
SABETHA, Kan. — A week after voters went to the polls in Kansas, Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded in the race for the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday night, handing a razor-thin victory to Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach.
Mr. Colyer had raised concerns in recent days about Mr. Kobach’s role in the vote-counting process, citing the secretary of state’s responsibility for overseeing the tallying of mail-in and provisional ballots. But speaking from the Statehouse in Topeka, Mr. Colyer said he would not challenge the results or ask for a recount.
As of Tuesday night, with counties midway through tallying their provisional ballots, Mr. Kobach was leading Mr. Colyer by 345 votes out of more than 300,000 Republican ballots.
“This election is probably the closest in America, but the numbers are just not there unless we were to go to extraordinary measures,” Mr. Colyer said.
This primary had attracted broad interest long before election night on Aug. 7 ended with no clear winner. Though Mr. Kobach and Mr. Colyer are each staunch conservatives, the matchup gave Kansas Republicans a choice between two distinct political styles.
While Mr. Colyer was viewed as a mild-mannered moderate, Mr. Kobach, endorsed by President Trump, was known widely for his strident views on illegal immigration and voter fraud. His aggressive approach prompted concerns among Republicans in Kansas and in Washington that he would be too polarizing in the general election in November, handing an opening to Democrats in a year in which they also hope to flip at least two House seats from red to blue.
Hours before Mr. Colyer conceded, Mr. Kobach said he was optimistic that he would clinch the nomination and hopeful that Republicans would unite behind him.
But Mr. Kobach had stopped just short of declaring victory. He acknowledged that several counties still had to count their votes, and deflected a question about whether Mr. Colyer should concede.
“That’s up to him,” Mr. Kobach said. “I think at this point the numbers look very difficult, the way that the trend is moving.”
Mr. Kobach, who has spent years building a national profile, is a brash, outspoken ally of the president whose campaign rhetoric sometimes sounds like Mr. Trump’s and who has long excited the party’s base. Mr. Colyer, more measured in his speech and not known as well outside Kansas, was seen by many national Republicans as a safer general election candidate with more appeal to moderate voters.
Though Republicans are dominant in Kansas politics, Democrats are energized and could benefit from the other side’s prolonged primary squabble. State Senator Laura Kelly, the Democratic nominee, and Greg Orman, a businessman running as an independent, will face Mr. Kobach in November.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Ms. Kelly compared Mr. Kobach to Sam Brownback, the former Kansas governor whose conservative tax-cutting policies led to revenue shortfalls and significant budget cuts. Mr. Brownback, who was deeply unpopular by the end of his tenure, resigned early this year to become an ambassador.
“With Kris Kobach as governor, Kansans get all of the failed policies of Sam Brownback plus Kobach’s unique brand of hyper-partisanship and self-promotion,” Ms. Kelly said.
More from The Kansas City Star:
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has captured the Republican nomination for governor after edging out Gov. Jeff Colyer in the tightest primary fight in Kansas history.
Colyer, a plastic surgeon from Overland Park, announced his concession Tuesday night after he failed to narrow the gap with Kobach when provisional ballots in Johnson County were tallied.
Kobach pointed to an endorsement tweet from President Donald Trump the day before the election as playing a key role in helping him power past Colyer.
“I think it was absolutely crucial. There’s no question that the election day voting went much more strongly for me as compared to the advance voting,” Kobach said during an event in Overland Park hours before Colyer’s concession.
Kobach led Colyer by 345 votes as of Tuesday night, a week after Election Day, with 85 of the state’s 105 counties having processed their provisional ballots.
Johnson County, the governor’s home county, dealt the final blow when Kobach outperformed Colyer on provisional ballots by 24 votes. Colyer won the county overall by 6 percentage points.
“This election is probably the closest in America. But the numbers are just not there unless we were to go to extraordinary measures,” Colyer said during an emotional news conference Tuesday night.
He promised not to seek a recount or challenge the race’s results in court.
“Kansas is too important, the people of Kansas are too important, our children are too important,” he said.
Kobach called Colyer “a worthy opponent” in a statement Tuesday night. In a phone call, he stressed his shared values with Colyer.
“The issues that unite us are far greater than the campaign trivialities that might have separated us at times,” Kobach said. “We’re both 100 percent pro-life, pro-gun, pro-taxpayer, and there’s just too much at stake for the Republican party to be divided.”
Colyer was elevated to the office of governor in January after Trump tapped Gov. Sam Brownback for an ambassadorship.
Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, praised Colyer’s leadership during his short tenure as governor and said the party would unify behind Kobach.
“We have a strong conservative nominee who has earned the endorsement of our president, who carried this state by 20 points. Kansas Republicans have much to be optimistic about,” Ryckman said.
Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, saw Kobach’s strong performance on provisional ballots across the state as a sign of Trump’s influence.
Provisional ballots, Beatty said, are usually cast by people who decide to vote at the last minute.
“Provisional voters almost by definition, they’re not going to be well-organized,” he said. “And I do think it’s possible the Trump endorsement helped garner him a few hundred extra votes.”
Trump’s decision to endorse Kobach had rankled national GOP strategists, sparking fears that it’ll make it more difficult for the party to hold onto the governor’s mansion and its congressional seats.
“It’s fair to say the consensus view is that we’re gonna lose that state and two House races to boot if he’s the (nominee),” said one Republican strategist close to Republican Governors Association donors, referring to Kobach.
The association put out a statement Tuesday night congratulating Kobach and calling him “the best candidate to keep Kansas moving forward.”
No other official in Kansas has more fully embraced Trump’s agenda than Kobach. He has also helped shaped that agenda.
The president had not reached out to Kobach in the hour after Colyer’s concession, but Kobach said “we speak frequently, so I expect I’ll be talking to him fairly soon.”
Kobach was the only statewide official to endorse Trump ahead of the 2016 Kansas Republican caucus and helped add Trump’s promised border wall to the national Republican Party platform.
Kobach met with Trump in the weeks after the 2016 election and discussed a proposal to change the National Voter Registration Act. He went on to serve as vice chair of the president’s now-disbanded commission on voter fraud.
He also has claimed to have played a role in the administration’s decisions to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census and to restrict the entry into the United State from several Muslim majority countries.
Several of these policy moves have caused controversy for Trump — and for Kobach.
Colyer’s decision to concede the race to Kobach came just a week after a primary race that ended with Kobach leading by a margin of just a few hundred votes and the prospect that the lead could change depending on the count of provisional, absentee, and military mail-in ballots that had not been counted prior to Election Night. By the end of the week, the margin between Kobach and Colyer had shrunk even further thanks to the discovery of previously uncounted votes in several of the state’s largest counties. Additionally, Kobach had come under pressure to recuse himself from any role in the counting of the ballot and any recount that might take place. After first resisting those calls, Kobach ultimately agreed to recuse himself from the vote count and any subsequent recount. As the counting process went on, though, it became clear that Colyer was unlikely to overtake Kobach no matter how the vote was counted. As things stand now, the unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s website show Kobach with 128.543 votes (40.63%), Colyer with 128,143 votes (40.50%), and 59,696 (18.87%) distributed among the remaining candidates. This result was remarkably close to where the limited polling of the Republican Primary ended up prior to the election last Tuesday. Most importantly, these numbers mean that the gap between Kobach and Colyer, which was under 100 votes on Friday morning, had grown to 400 votes by yesterday, a gap that was actually larger than what we initially saw on the day after the election. Given this it was unlikely that any further counting, or a recount, would have swung the election sufficiently in Colyer’s favor, a fact that no doubt led to his decision to concede the race rather than press the issue any further.
From here Kobach will go on to face Democratic nominee Laura Kelly, a member of the Kansas State Senate who has served in that position since 2005. Additionally, both major party candidates could face an independent challenge from Kansas businessman Greg Orman. Orman was last in the news four years ago when he challenged incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts, a race he ended losing by nearly 100,000 votes notwithstanding the fact that some early polls showed him coming close to beating Roberts. Whether Orman ends up on the ballot will depend on whether the Secretary of State’s office certifies the signatures that Orman submitted in support of his candidacy, although it seems likely that would happen. Under Kansas law requires that independent candidates for Governor submit 5,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Last week, Orman’s campaign submitted more than 10,000 signatures, meaning that it would require that more than half the signatures that Orman has submitted be rejected for him to fail to qualify for the ballot. That seems statistically unlikely, so we can assume for now that Orman will make it on the ballot.
To date there has only been one poll of the race taken that includes Kobach, Kelly, and Orman. That poll, taken by the Remington Research Group showed Laura Kelly getting 36% of the vote, Kobach getting 35% of the vote and Orman getting 12% with 17% stating no preference as of now or responding that they are undecided. That poll, of course, was taken prior to the outcome of either the Republican or Democratic primaries and therefore doesn’t reflect the outcome of those elections. As a result, it will take more polling, and more time, to determine where this race is headed and, specifically, whether Kelly or Orman will have a chance of beating what seems like Kobach’s natural advantages in what is a traditionally Republican state.
One big question with regard to Kobach, of course, will be the extent to which he may be hurt by what turned out to be a down-t0-the-wire campaign that in many respects divided the Kansas GOP between its Trumpian base and its more traditional roots. The best example of that can be seen in the fact that, while Donald Trump endorsed Kobach, Colyer had received the endorsement of former Kansas Senator Bob Dole, who still holds significant support and influence within the state party. If the divisions from the primary prove too hard to heal, that could pose a problem for Kobach. Additionally, it’s unclear at this point what kind of factor Greg Orman will have on the race. Unlike four years ago, he currently doesn’t seem to be polling high enough that he would have a chance of winning the election, but if he continues polling in the double digits then he will obviously have some impact on the outcome of the race. The only question is which candidate he ends up drawing support from.
The other question for Kobach, of course, will be his own political history and the controversial stands that he has taken on a wide variety of issues over the past several years. As Secretary of State, he has been at the forefront of a movement for Voter ID laws and other changes to voter registration laws that many have argued it more difficult for minorities and the poor to register to vote and to vote even if they are registered. After President Trump took office, he was named as the head of a commission that was given the task of investigating claims of alleged voter fraud in the 2016 Presidential Election. By and large, that commission ended without finding any evidence of such fraud and it quickly became apparent that Kobach’s entire investigation had ulterior and partisan motives, something that led many states, including states controlled by fellow Republicans. Additionally, Kobach will likely have to deal with the impact of nearly eight years of policies enacted by former Governor Sam Brownback that have left state finances in something of a mess, and which nearly cost Brownback re-election four years ago.
Notwithstanding all of that, though, the current expectation seems to be that Kobach will be the next Governor of Kansas. The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections, and Daily Kos all list the race as “Likely Republican” and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball lists it as “Leans Republican.” All of these ratings, though, were released before the results of the primary races were known and before it was clear whether or not Orman would enter the race. Whether that changes in the next three months will depend on how the campaign goes, what impact Greg Orman has on the race, if any, and the extent to which disdain for Kobach’s past positions come back to bite him.