Saturday, August 18, 2018

Kansas Governor- Race of the Day

80 Days Until Election Day

Kansas Governor

Status: Republican Open
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Kansas is an extremely strong state for Republicans, at least on the federal level. No Democrat has won a Senate race since 1932. The state has not been competitive in Presidential elections for many years. However, a race for Governor may be another story. The GOP always has an edge in the state, but female Democrats have been elected Governor when Republicans have been President before in recent decades, and the same may happen this year, especially due to a very divided Republican Party, and a controversial nominee.

What happened in 2014 has to be remembered though. Seeking reelection was Republican incumbent Sam Brownback, a former U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate, who wound up being fairly unpopular as Governor due to budget issues and the impression some had he was more intent on enacting a conservative social agenda than working with others to achieve common ground. For a generation now, there have been battles in the Kansas GOP between conservatives and moderates and this all seemed to come to a head four years ago, with many Republicans endorsing the Democrat nominee, House Minority Leader Paul Davis. Throughout the general election, polls showed the somewhat nondescript Davis leading Brownback, due to the incumbent's unpopularity, but the Republican Party, both at the state and national level (a U.S. Senate seat was also considered endangered), chipped in and in a strong Republican year, Brownback prevailed by a few points and just under 50 percent of the vote.

The Governor would not be able to gain back much popularity in a second term and Republicans in the state were hoping to get him out of Topeka after the election of Donald Trump, with some form of Presidential appointment. He was eventually chosen for the new position of U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, but the confirmation process dragged especially long and the vote in the U.S. Senate, among former colleagues, required the Vice President casting a tie-breaker.

All the while, Kansas basically had two Governors, as Brownback was still formally in charge but his Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer, a former surgeon was given more responsibility over state matters. Colyer officially became Governor at the end of January of this year and some were relieved that incumbency would give him a head start on a campaign of his own and help him distance himself from Brownback's image in the state.

Many Republicans and Democrats lined up to run as well though. This included a number of teenagers, under a glitch of sorts in the state law, which sent no requirements to hold the office of Governor. One of the teens who ran for Governor has never even been to Kansas. People joked that a dog could run and maybe be elected. Perhaps a Dorothy/Toto ticket? In Kansas, candidates team up for Governor and Lt. Governor and compete as a team in the primary to advance. As it would turn out, while none of the Kansas teenagers got a ton of votes, their totals did wind up effecting what would eventually be a razor thin GOP primary, and thus might ultimately sway the general election as well.

First, among Democrats, Paul Davis decided to run for Congress instead of making another bid for Governor, and the current House Minority Leader Paul Ward, entered the race, but dropped out after lackluster fundraising. For a time, it looked like Carl Brewer, the African-American former Mayor of Wichita would have a great shot at the nomination, but the party establishment began to rally around State Senator Laura Kelly. Former State Agriculture Secretary and State Representative Josh Svaty also entered the race.

On the GOP side, the field joining Colyer, who began campaigning months before officially becoming Governor was even larger. Jim Barnett, a former State Senator , and also a doctor, who lost as the party's 2006 nominee for Governor, and would go on to lose a Congressional primary in 2010 decided to try again, and his moderate image was seen as perhaps making him the most electable after all the tumult in the state GOP. Naming his wife as his Lt. Governor running-mate may not have been the smartest political move though. Interim Lt. Governor and businessman/farmer Tracey Mann was on Colyer's ticket.

Two statewide elected officials also joined the fray.The candidacy of Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer never really took off, but Secretary of State Kris Kobach was someone with a devoted following, and who came from Kansas's staunchly conservative wing of the state GOP. His running-mate would wind up being a Gubernatorial candidate who dropped out to make the alliance with Kobach, businessman Wink Hartman, who sounds more like a game show host. When they were primary opponents, Hartman was quite harsh rhetorically on Kobach, but this would not be the first or last time that former party rivals would join forces in politics.

Kobach has been on the radar of political watchers from around the country for years now. In 2004, running as a staunch critic of illegal immigration, he lost what was supposed to be a competitive Congressional race to a Democrat incumbent by 12 points. He would then become chairman of the Republican Party in Kansas and seemed to widen the divisions within it by demanding loyalty tests. In 2010, he rode the GOP wave to the office of Secretary of State, but generated headlines once within it by his rhetoric on illegal immigration and enforcement of civil rights laws. Critics took to calling him a racist. He also became closely identified with the cause of mandatory photo I.D. to combat voter fraud. Questions about his personal travel also surfaced, but he was reelected in 2014 without breaking too much of a sweat.

Throughout all this time, Kobach was one of the few Republican elected officials who seemed to at least entertain the idea of "birtherism" as it related to Barack Obama and has never fully repudiated the concept. His agreement with Donald Trump on immigration matters had him as a frontrunner for the position of Secretary of Homeland Security, but some Trump aides may have been turned off by him after he showed up to his interview photo-op with his talking points visible to the camera. Still, Trump seemed to take a liking to him and put him in charge of a voter fraud task force to look at allegations of cheating in the 2016 Presidential election, in which Donald Trump lost the popular vote. This task force became somewhat of a laughing stock and even most Republican Secretaries of State refused to cooperate in the way Kobach was demanding.

The commission would quietly be disbanded, but by this point, Kobach was focusing on winning the Governorship of his home state. His popularity among conservatives definitely had him in the running, with the field being crowded and the incumbent still introducing himself for the most part.
As unpopular as Brownback had been, and with Colyer tainted by that association, the thought was that Kobach would have a harder time winning a general election than any other Kansas Republican would.

Another twist came into play late last year when wealthy businessman Greg Orman announced he would run for Governor as an Independent. At various times, Orman has been registered both as a Democrat and a Republican, but in 2016 he ran for the U.S. Senate as an Independent against embattled GOP incumbent Pat Roberts. Democrats decided they were better off backing him than their own recently selected nominee and dropped their candidate to endorse him (which involved legal battles that Kobach as Secretary of State was involved in.) During the campaign, Orman stressed his moderate credentials,and looked a like a potential upset in the making, but Republicans warned he was a closet Democrat, and with increased vigilance on the race by the national party, fell short by over 10 points.

In running for Governor, Orman selected Republican State Sentor John Doll as his choice for Lt. Governor and Doll changed his affiliation to Independent. Orman is now more well-known throughout the state and the circumstances of the Republican race may have him be more open to consideration by members of that party, but the Democrats certainly do not seem willing to step aside in his favor time time around.

In the early August primary, Laura Kelly and her running-mate, State Senator Lynn Rogers, (a co-ed ticket) easily won with about 52 percent of the vote, over Brewers 20 percent and Svaty's 18 percent. The real action was on the Republican side though. Donald Trump had Tweeted his endorsement of Kobach late in the game, which many thought and feared would clinch the nomination for him. Republicans who were anti-Kobach decided to rally around Governor Colyer as the only chance to beat him, and support for Barnett dropped as a result. State GOP legend, former Senator Bob Dole Tweeted his own endorsement of the Governor right before the election. However, the high-school kids, the statewide official, and the past nominee, while all finishing in single digits, received a approximate combined 18 percent of the GOP vote.

The total for any one of them could have made the difference in the result as Kobach would go on to knock off the incumbent by a scant 361 votes statewide. I happen to be surprised that with Trump's endorsement in tow, (which did not please the Republican Governors' Association), that Kobach did not win by a much wider margin. After primary night, the race had been even closer, and definitely unable to be called. As Secretary of State, Kobach would have a role in the counting process and whatever might happen after that, and he at first rebuffed efforts to step aside, where he had a clear conflict of interest, and with Colyer accusing him of giving inaccurate information to counties. Kobach eventually relented, but more votes surfaced for him anyway, and one week after the primary, a tearful Colyer conceded and expressed his wish that the Governorship stay Republican. I theorize that if the roles were reversed, Kobach might not have conceded and blamed his loss on voter fraud by illegal immigrants.

Laura Kelly may be an attractive candidate and there could be a strong desire in the state for change after the Brownback years, but the general election will ultimately come down to a referendum on Kobach. There are definite divisions in the Republican Party, and theoretically a great opportunity for Orman to make waves as an Independent. He is expected to get into the double digits in November, but as long as Kelly does not come across as a liberal ideologue, it would be tough for him to split the electorate two ways, and have a chance to win. Instead, he will almost certainly play the role of spoiler. The question is will he take enough Republican votes away from Kobach to sway the election to Kelly or will he split the anti-Kobach vote enough to save the GOP nominee?

If this were a Senate race, I might say the latter, but in a race for Governor, in this particular midterm I think it is more likely that the Democrat wins. Right now, it is too soon to see if there is evidence to suggest anything other than a Tossup. It is definitely not out of the realm of possibility that the R next to Kobach's name turns out to be enough in Kansas, if he receives a strong conservative base turnout. In the end though, he might prove to be too polarizing and the small win by an incumbent in the last midterm, where Republicans had a good night, could see a different result during a midterm for a Republican President.

Nothing would really surprise me too much in this race, including Kelly winning solidly in the final days, but if that happens, she should consider herself lucky that Republicans narrowly made the choic they made. All other non-teenage GOP candidates would have been harder to beat.

Gubernatorial Races predicted thus far:

7 D,  (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
7 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

14 D (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely 1 Leans, 3 Tossup)
14 R (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup)


Post a Comment

<< Home