Primary day in Kansas comes with a little extra drama. Will a sitting governor be defeated by a controversial conservative who just the day before the polls opened received a big endorsement from President Trump?
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach are the leading contenders in a crowded, seven-candidate GOP field. Polls show Colyer and Kobach in a neck-and-neck battle, making Monday’s Trump tweet endorsement significant.
In it, Trump tweeted, “Kris Kobach, a strong and early supporter of mine…he is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country-he will be a Great Governor and he has my full and total Endorsement.”
That endorsement came against the advice of some top Republicans, including reportedly from leaders of the Republican Governor’s Association, who believe Kobach is too polarizing to win in November.
Kobach gained national notoriety when he successfully pushed for a law requiring Kansans to prove they are U.S. citizens before registering to vote. The law also requires voters to bring proof of ID to the polls. The law easily passed the Kansas State Legislature, but was later struck down by a U.S. District Court judge.
Kobach is appealing the court ruling and makes no apologies for his tough immigration and voter fraud stances. He says this election is about the future direction of the Republican Party.
“In 2016, President Trump set a new course for the Republican Party,” Kobach said. “In 2018, now the Republican Party is deciding in state after state, ‘do we want to stay on the course that President Trump charted for us?’”
Colyer supported the voter fraud law and said he agrees with President Trump on everything from his tough immigration positions to his handling of trade with China. But Colyer said Kobach’s aggressive style has turned off the same voters needed to keep the governor’s office in Republican control.
“Right now his negatives are 55 percent among the general electorate, but for me what this is about is a conservative message that gets things done,” Colyer said. “Kansans and Bob Dole himself says, Jeff Colyer’s the one person who can win the general election.”
Polls have also shown Colyer with a name recognition problem. One survey showed 39 percent of respondents had no opinion of him. So he’s been barnstorming the state trying to raise his profile. Colyer shook off the Trump endorsement of Kobach, saying the president has a personal relationship with Kobach, who led the president’s short-lived commission on voter fraud. Donald Trump Jr. has also hunted with Kobach and has campaigned for him.
On the Democratic side, there are five candidates vying for the party nomination. The leader is State Sen. Laura Kelly.
Independent Greg Orman turned in more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. He could play spoiler. Orman, a businessman, has some name recognition after running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.
Political observers say Trump’s endorsement of Kobach is being cheered by opponents.
“Both the Democratic candidate and the independent candidate want Kris Kobach to win the nomination,” said Washburn University Political Science professor Bob Beatty. “They believe they can defeat Kris Kobach in a general election because he is so divisive, and he’s relatively unpopular among a number of Kansans.”
Polls close at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time.