Kris Kobach deployed one of his most potent political weapons — his close ties to President Donald Trump — by campaigning with Trump’s oldest son before more than 200 supporters in Wichita.
Donald Trump Jr. spoke at a fundraiser for Kobach’s campaign for governor at NOAH’s Event Venue, with dinner tickets running $100 a piece. The gathering marked Trump Jr.’s second trip to Kansas for Kobach, after an appearance last year in Overland Park.
The Kansas secretary of state is fighting Gov. Jeff Colyer and others for the Republican nomination, which will be decided in a primary election on Aug. 7. The Tuesday night event was a high-profile effort by Kobach to raise cash before a deadline later this month to publicly disclose campaign finances.
Trump Jr.’s father loomed over the event. Kobach said that he was the only statewide Republican elected official to endorse Trump before the Kansas presidential caucus in 2016.
“Which perhaps explains why I am here today,” Trump Jr. replied.
Kobach supporters dined in a ballroom under white canopies and hanging crystals. A VIP reception held before the dinner was closed to reporters.
Outside the fundraiser sat Kobach’s American flag Jeep, with a mounted replica machine gun. Security was tight, with law enforcement in tactical gear conducting a sweep of the premises before the event began.
Kobach stood next to the Jeep as a film crew shot a campaign commercial while supporters arrived.
Don Erbert, an Iola resident who owns the Jeep and has known Kobach for several years, said what Kobach says to him personally is what he says publicly.
“I stand for everything he stands for: the Second Amendment, cutting taxes,” said Erbert, who added that he believes Kansas has too many government employees. “Friend first, then a fan.”
Kobach has leaned on his connections to Trump throughout the campaign — playing up his role as an informal adviser to the president and defending Trump’s unsupported claims that Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote through voter fraud.
Even as Trump has weathered a series of controversies and scandals, nothing has shaken Kobach’s support of the president.
President Trump’s comments on Monday questioning the assessment of United States intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to his benefit while standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin was swiftly condemned by Democrats as well as some Republicans in Congress.
But as Trump Jr. stood next to Kobach on Tuesday night, his father’s statements from the day before didn’t come up. The two also didn’t discuss Trump Jr.’s role in arranging a June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
In addition, Trump Jr. said almost nothing about the Kansas governor’s race.
The discussion focused largely on the 2016 election as well as President Trump’s characteristics, from his tweeting to his direct style.
“The irony of the brash billionaire from New York relating to real people across every spectrum, across the country — and he had the right answers and he could relate,” Trump Jr. said of his father.
Trump Jr. said his father’s campaign benefited from “whisper” voters — those who were willing to vote for Trump but wouldn’t say it aloud.
Trump Jr. recalled encountering a “young, female, dreadlocks person” at the Denver airport.
“I remember that one distinctly. I said, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to go well.’ And it’s like, ‘Hey, thanks for what you’re doing,’ ” Trump Jr. said.
Colyer didn’t comment on the fundraiser. But his campaign circulated to supporters a statement attacking Kobach hours before the event.
“With Democrats targeting Kansas for a hostile takeover, we cannot afford to have someone who says all the right things, but ultimately never delivers conservative victories,” the statement said.
Kobach has said he is the only “consistent conservative” in the race. He has called Colyer’s attack a sign of desperation.
The Trump Jr. event came the day after Colyer scored the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, which Kobach’s campaign called “incumbent protection.” The governor has also been endorsed by several Kansas agricultural groups over the past several weeks.
No candidate in the Kansas Republican race for governor has yet received the endorsement of President Trump. Whether Trump will ultimately intervene in the race is unknown.
Kobach’s relationship with the Trump family extends back to early 2016, when Keith Mark, who had hunted with Kobach, introduced him to Trump Jr.
Kobach’s relationship to Trump grew to the point that Kobach was considered for jobs in the new administration. Kobach says he remains in regular contact with the president, and events such as a fundraiser with Trump Jr. remind voters of that connection.
Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said President Trump continues to enjoy a high level of support among Republicans in the state.
“You have seen both of the top candidates tout their connections and support for the administration,” Arnold said.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said Kobach and other Republican candidates have fundamental differences amongst themselves — an indication, he said, of division within the party.
“I think in the end this entire circus is actually beneficial to Democrats in the November election,” Carmichael said.
But Arnold predicted a high level of energy among Republicans going into the general election. He referenced the 2010 and 2014 election cycles, where he said Republican volunteers transitioned smoothly from promoting primary candidates to working to elect Republican nominees.
“People understand what’s at stake here” and are already getting active, Arnold said.