One of the most competitive gubernatorial contests in the country this year is in, of all places, Kansas – a ruby-red state that’s struggled badly after eight years of Republican governance. GOP voters have rallied behind right-wing Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who’s earned a reputation as an anti-immigration and voter-suppression crusader.
Kobach was also recently exposed for his role in a “sham” in which he traveled from town to town, persuaded local officials to pass anti-immigrant ordinances, defended the communities against lawsuits, and lined his pockets while the towns lost money on losing cases.
As the Kansas City Star reported late yesterday, it’s reached the point at which many of the state’s most prominent former Republican officials are rallying to support the Democratic nominee.
A second former Republican governor of Kansas is spurning Kris Kobach’s run for the office in favor of Democrat Laura Kelly’s candidacy.
Former Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden, who served from 1987 to 1991, announced on Thursday that he is endorsing Kelly’s run for governor. He becomes the latest major GOP official along with former Gov. Bill Graves and former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum to support the state senator from Topeka.
Every living ex-governor of Kansas – except for Republican Sam Brownback – now supports Kelly over Kobach.
In a written statement, Hayden said, “After eight years of crisis, we cannot elect someone who wants to repeat the disasters of the past. Kris Kobach has promised to do just that – risking the future of our great state.”
It’s exceedingly rare to see any state’s partisan old guard rally in opposition to its own party’s nominee for statewide office.
With this much Republican support for Laura Kelly, it’s tempting to think the respected Democratic state senator would be well positioned to win. In practice, however, there’s a significant hurdle in her way – and it has nothing to do with Kansas’ partisan leanings.
As we discussed in August, Kobach’s saving grace may be Greg Orman, who’s running as an independent gubernatorial candidate this year. With Orman dividing the political mainstream, the Republican may have just enough support to prevail.
If Orman’s name sounds familiar, in 2014, he launched a U.S. Senate campaign against incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R). It was a three-way contest, which all but assured Roberts’ re-election, so Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out to help give Orman a better chance of success.
State and national Republicans scrambled to rescue Roberts, and their efforts paid off: the incumbent won by about 10 points in a very good year for the GOP.
Four years later, Orman, far behind in the polls and not in a position to seriously compete for the governor’s office, apparently has no interest in following Chad Taylor’s example. Kansans are now positioned to deal with the consequences.
Postscript: Complicating matters further are suspected voter-suppression tactics. The Associated Press published this report out of one of Kansas’ most diverse areas.
Access to the ballot box in November will be more difficult for some people in Dodge City, where Hispanics now make up 60 percent of its population and have remade an iconic Wild West town that once was the destination of cowboys and buffalo hunters who frequented the Long Branch Saloon.
At a time when many rural towns are slowly dying, the arrival of two massive meatpacking plants boosted Dodge City’s economy and transformed its demographics as immigrants from Mexico and other countries flooded in to fill those jobs.
But the city located 160 miles (257 kilometers) west of Wichita has only one polling site for its 27,000 residents. Since 2002, the lone site was at the civic center just blocks from the local country club – in the wealthy, white part of town. For this November’s election, local officials have moved it outside the city limits to a facility more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, citing road construction that blocked the previous site.
Let’s also not forget that as Kansas’ secretary of state, Kris Kobach is positioned to help oversee the election he’s running in.