Kris Kobach has parted with a key consultant and a longtime aide, part of a campaign shakeup as the race for governor enters an intense summer period.
The Republican secretary of state has also elevated a state lawmaker to campaign manager and picked the former editor of a conservative news site as his new spokeswoman.
Taken together, the turnover shows Kobach’s campaign aiming to retool itself as it faces Gov. Jeff Colyer, who has attracted headlines in recent days amid a blitz of bill signings. The Republican primary is less than three months away.
"Successful businesses and successful campaigns continually re-evaluate their personnel to make sure they have the right people in the right places to win,” Wink Hartman, Kobach’s running mate, said in a statement.
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“It is common in business to regularly reassess the team in order to stay in front of the competition," said Hartman, a Wichita businessman.
The changes come after a spring of challenges. Critics mocked Kobach's performance during a federal civil trial over Kansas voting law. The trial ended with the judge holding Kobach in contempt of court.
State lawmakers then mounted an unsuccessful but attention-grabbing attempt to keep him from using state funds to pay the costs of being held in contempt. And an anti-Kobach PAC on Monday released a report alleging ties to militias and other extremists.
Jared Suhn, a principal at Singularis Group, a Republican consulting firm, left the campaign recently.
“Due to strategic differences, I decided to end my involvement with the campaign early last week. I appreciated the opportunity and wish the best to Kris and his family,” Suhn said in a statement.
Singularis Group is a leading firm for Kansas Republicans and has worked for numerous campaigns, including Kobach’s secretary of state campaign, and the 2008 presidential campaigns of Sam Brownback and John McCain.
Singularis continues to handle digital and print strategy for the Kobach campaign. But that represents a diminished role for the firm; Suhn was helping to guide the campaign.
Kobach has named Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, as campaign manager.
"J.R. is a committed conservative who shares my values and knows the political landscape in Kansas well. He has the perfect skill set and experience to manage our campaign," Kobach said in a statement.
Danedri Herbert's role as spokeswoman – announced Wednesday – is news itself. Herbert is a former writer and editor at The Sentinel, a conservative news site focused on Kansas and Missouri that often criticizes the political coverage of newspapers, including The Eagle and The Star. She once wrote freelance columns for a Star neighborhood news section.
She replaces Moriah Day, who has worked for Kobach in various roles for four years. Day said in a text message that he has resigned his positions on the campaign and in the secretary of state’s office, but did not comment further.
“As a conservative activist, working for Kris has been an exciting and rewarding experience,” Day said. He wished Kobach well in his campaign.
Day had replaced Samantha Poetter in March as campaign spokesperson. Poetter was managing the congressional campaign of Republican Tyler Tannahill in the Second District, but is now working for Kobach helping the campaign's volunteer efforts.
The reshuffle takes place as both Kobach and Colyer are campaigning across the state. Kobach is in the middle of a western Kansas tour at the moment. On Tuesday, Colyer traveled to state universities to sign the budget bill. And Colyer’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann, will make several western Kansas stops on Thursday.
In addition to Colyer, Kobach also faces Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former state senator Jim Barnett in the Republican primary.
Kobach throughout his political career has always been in control of his runs for office, said Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University. He said a candidate insisting on control can sometimes lead to clashes within a campaign, however.
“People talk about, ‘Oh, who’s the campaign manager?’ Well, Kris Kobach’s the campaign manager. That’s never going to change,” Beatty said.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat and frequent Kobach critic, called the campaign reshuffle surprising but said Kobach has had bad luck lately, noting the trial and contempt citation.
“Perhaps the secretary thought that a house-cleaning was necessary,” he said.
Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, said he likes the activity he is seeing from the Kobach campaign and said it has picked up.
Whitmer said Claeys, who he works with in the House, “knows his stuff.”
“His emphasis will be in getting out. Go out to these communities and sit in a coffee shop and just talk for a few hours,” Whitmer said. “I think Kris certainly has the name recognition but maybe folks haven’t had the chance to meet him — that would be a great opportunity for them to do that.”