Politics & Government

Kansas Democrats watch with glee as Republicans Colyer, Kobach fight over election

Kansas governor candidates debate in Atchison

Gov. Jeff Colyer faced attacks by Secretary of State Kris Kobach at a debate in Atchison on April 13, 2018.
Up Next
Gov. Jeff Colyer faced attacks by Secretary of State Kris Kobach at a debate in Atchison on April 13, 2018.

Kansas Democrats are delighted by the continuing battle between Kris Kobach and Jeff Colyer in the Republican race for governor. The prolonged uncertainty over who will win the primary election effectively hands Democrats “buckets of free money,” they say.

The Republican race for governor may remain undecided for weeks and potentially end in lawsuits. Democrats say the extended drama gives them a head start on fundraising and organizing going into the general election season.

“It’s as if the Republicans are handing us buckets and buckets of free money … it’s days their money isn’t being used to attack anybody,” said Chris Reeves, a Democratic national committeeman in Kansas.

Republicans are downplaying the possibility the unresolved contest between Kobach and Colyer, the current governor, will ultimately harm them in November. But they acknowledge the standoff could slow fundraising on their side.

Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold said the uncertainty about the nominee “makes it a little more difficult for the campaigns to raise money … until they know they’re the candidate.”

“You’ve got a number of people … who kind of wait until after the primaries are over because they’re there to support our nominee,” Arnold said. “Many of them are still sitting on the sidelines waiting.”

On Friday, Kobach, the secretary of state, held a lead of 110 votes, according to his office. The margin will almost certainly change when county election officials begin sifting through provisional ballots Monday.

The final results may not be certified until Aug. 31. Recounts and litigation remain possible.

“We want the Republicans to spend as much time as they need to while we’re out talking to voters about what the future looks like,” Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said.

State Sen. Laura Kelly easily won the Democratic nomination for governor on election night and transitioned into general election mode. She has said it doesn’t matter whether she ends up facing Colyer or Kobach.

“The longer the story is indecision, confusion, disunity on the Republican side, I think the better that is for Democrats,” said Ethan Corson, director of the Kansas Democratic Party.

Republicans, on the other hand, are waiting for the vote counting process to finish.

Arnold called the unresolved race a “temporary obstacle” that the party will work around and said the situation won’t hurt Republicans.

He said Republicans will begin attacking Kelly right away.

“We kind of have campaign plan A and campaign plan A.1 depending on which candidate we have,” Arnold said.

Political parties typically use the days following a primary to unite and mend relationships frayed during the primary campaign. Parties and campaigns also intensify outreach to donors and activists as they kick off the general election season.

But instead of unifying, tensions are rising between Kobach and Colyer, who became governor six months ago when Sam Brownback resigned.

Colyer on Thursday demanded Kobach recuse himself from providing advice to county election officers and said he had made statements on national TV that were inconsistent with Kansas law. Colyer also hinted at the possibility of litigation.

Kobach said Friday afternoon in a letter to Colyer that he would recuse himself from overseeing vote counting but said the decision is symbolic because the counties count votes, not him. He named longtime deputy Eric Rucker to oversee the election in his stead, but the Colyer campaign said his appointment didn’t address their concerns about a conflict of interest.

Kobach also said Colyer’s rhetoric risked undermining public confidence in the election process.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Wednesday that he has no plans to recuse himself from a recount process in the race for governor because any counting of ballots would take place at the county level.

An extended recount or legal process could damage Republicans if candidates become hostile toward each other, said Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas.

“That would cost them time and resources and any of that hostility that gets out in the media doesn’t help the eventual nominee. It doesn’t help heal the wounds that always occur with primaries,” Miller said.

Given that Republican voters were sharply divided between Kobach and Colyer, Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, said Republicans must analyze the results to determine exactly what voters said and carry out a strategy based on that message.

“I think it’s extremely important at this point for the Republican Party to make sure that we are inclusive, that we are listening to everyone’s thoughts and ideas within the party and that we get that unification that we’re going to need to be successful in November,” Longbine said.

Despite the current division, Miller said Republicans still have a built-in structural advantage over Democrats: independent Greg Orman. Miller predicts Orman will draw away Democratic voters.

Orman, a Johnson County businessman, isn’t officially on the general election ballot yet. He turned in thousands of signatures Monday to secure a spot and is waiting on the secretary of state’s office to certify the signatures.

“(Republicans) can afford to have damaging events occur, or to nominate someone like Kobach who appears from the polling to be a weaker candidate than Colyer,” Miller said. “They can afford that because they have the opposition split.”

Orman has rejected the argument that he will only take votes from Democrats. He has said he will build a coalition of Democrats as well as Republicans and independents.

Asked Friday whether the current lack of a Republican nominee helps Orman, campaign spokesman Sam Edelen said that regardless of who the nominee is, “the choice voters will have in November will be clear”: between two career politicians or Orman, a businessman.

Republicans say they’re ready to move on to the general election.

At a GOP unity breakfast on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, called on Republicans in all political races to come together.

“What we need to remember is what happened yesterday was an intramural scrimmage,” Hineman said. “What’s coming up is a varsity match.”