Wink Hartman is dropping out of the race for governor and may join the Kris Kobach campaign as Kobach’s running mate, according to sources familiar with the campaigns.
Hartman said Wednesday he is getting out of the governor’s race to avoid the prospect of splitting the conservative vote in the upcoming Republican primary.
He would not say if he’s going to join the Kobach ticket as lieutenant governor. “ I can’t speak for Kris,” he said.
Kobach could not be reached for comment, but did issue a statement praising Hartman and implying he’d have a significant role in a potential Kobach administration.
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“Wink is a Kansas success story – starting several companies from scratch,” Kobach wrote. “This is exactly what our state needs more of – entrepreneurs who invest and create new jobs right here at home. I look forward to receiving his counsel on how we expand the Kansas economy and reform state government."
Two independent sources have told The Eagle that Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, and Hartman, a Wichita oil and restaurant businessman, have reached an agreement for Hartman to drop out and join the Kobach ticket as candidate for lieutenant governor. Both spoke on the condition that they not be named.
Hartman is in the process of transitioning his campaign staff to a joint bid with Kobach, the sources said.
Hartman said he spent some time with Kobach, his wife and five daughters at the Republican convention last weekend and came away impressed. “He really is a strong family guy,” Hartman said.
He said he decided to endorse Kobach over Gov. Jeff Colyer because “the Colyer-Brownback team has had seven years to solve the K-12 school finance situation” and failed.
Colyer served as Sam Brownback’s lieutenant governor for almost all of that time, but took over the top job three weeks ago when Brownback left for an ambassadorship in President Trump’s administration.
Kobach and Hartman share similar political beliefs on the conservative end of the Republican spectrum and each would bring important strengths to a joint ticket.
Surveys show that Kobach has the highest name recognition of any Kansas governor candidate and a committed core of supporter drawn by his hard-line stance on illegal immgration and alleged voter fraud by immigrants. But campaign finance forms show that he has struggled to raise money compared to others in the race, especially Colyer.
Hartman struggled to get his name out to the electorate, but is independently wealthy and earmarked more than $1.7 million for self-funding his campaign, according to campaign finance records.