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Democratic gubernatorial candidates pick up key GOP backing

An underappreciated angle to this year’s midterms: the sizable groups of Republicans rallying behind Democratic candidates for governor in multiple states.


In Kansas’ gubernatorial race, it seemed likely that former Gov. Bill Graves would support state Attorney General Derek Schmidt. Not only are they both Republicans, but Schmidt actually worked in Schmidt’s administration. About a month ago, however, the former GOP governor threw his support behind Laura Kelly, Kansas’ Democratic governor.

A couple of weeks later, another former Republican Kansas governor, Mike Hayden, also announced his support for the Democratic incumbent. Yesterday, as The Topeka Capital-Journal reported, the trend continued.

Former Republican U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum announced Monday she would endorse Gov. Laura Kelly in the Kansas governor’s race. While Kassebaum endorsed Kelly in 2018, it was expected that one of the pre-eminent figures in Kansas politics would not back her or her opponent, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, in 2022.

Schmidt not only worked for Kassebaum’s Senate office, she also backed his campaign for state attorney general. This year, however, the former senator is nevertheless supporting the Democratic governor.

If this political dynamic seems at all familiar, it’s not your imagination. The Metro Times in Michigan ran this report a few weeks ago on the Wolverine State’s Democratic incumbent governor also benefiting from some GOP backing.

More than 150 Michigan Republicans banded together to launch a group supporting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reelection bid, her campaign announced Monday. The group includes business leaders, former state lawmakers, an ex-congressman, and top staff from the Republican administrations of Gov. John Engler and Rick Snyder. Jeff Timmer, the former head of the Michigan Republican Party, also signed on.

Two weeks earlier, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a related report on Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race.

Several more Republican leaders announced Tuesday that they will go against their political party and support Attorney General Josh Shapiro in the November gubernatorial election. Seven former GOP officials — including former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Allegheny County state Rep. Jim Kelly — said they’ll support Mr. Shapiro, the state’s Democratic nominee, in the 2022 election.

Those endorsements came on the heels of other Republican officials backing Shapiro, including two former GOP congressmen, a former GOP state House speaker and a former GOP lieutenant governor.

It’s difficult to predict how many votes will be swayed by endorsements like these, though Republicans in these states appear to be effectively giving permission to their own party’s voters to support Democratic candidates.