Kansas hosted one of the nation’s closest primary contests last week, and it looked like it might be a while before we learned who the Republican Party’s gubernatorial nominee would be. Incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) had already hired an attorney, and many expected a prolonged and contentious recount process.Last night, however, all of that changed.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded Tuesday evening in the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary, saying he would endorse Secretary of State Kris Kobach a week after their neck-and-neck finish threatened to send the race to a recount.
Colyer accepted defeat after a review of some provisional ballots from most Kansas counties failed to find enough votes for him to overcome a deficit of 110 votes at the time of poll closing in the Aug. 7 primary, out of more than 311,000 votes initially counted.
Donald Trump will likely take some credit for the results, and for a change, the presidential boast may be at least somewhat true. Despite pressure from the Republican Governors Association and White House officials, who urged Trump to stay out of the primary, the president announced his support for Kobach the day before the primary.
Given Kobach’s tiny margin of victory, it’s quite likely Trump’s backing helped push the far-right candidate over the top.
The question, of course, is whether Republicans will end up regretting it.
The reason that so many GOP officials urged the president not to endorse Kobach is that he’s a poor choice for the party. As we discussed last week, he’s earned a reputation as an anti-immigration and voter-suppression crusader, but Kobach has also been stung by a series of humiliating legal defeats.
What’s more, the Kansas secretary of state 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.
There’s also the matter of the white nationalists Kobach reportedly put on his campaign payroll.
All of which suggests Democrats, despite Kansas’ ruby-red status, may have a chance in this race. State Sen. Laura Kelly, the chamber’s Senate Minority Whip, will be the Democratic nominee, and will enjoy the party’s enthusiastic backing.
But Kobach’s saving grace may be Greg Orman, who’s running as an independent gubernatorial candidate this year. Dems have long seen Kobach as too extreme, even for Kansas, but with Orman dividing the political mainstream, don’t be too surprised if the GOP nominee prevails.
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.
Whether Orman might be willing to follow Chad Taylor’s example this year remains to be seen.