Politics & Government

Colyer called Kobach a show pony. Now he’s supporting him

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (left) poses with Gov. Jeff Colyer, the man he narrowly beat in the Republican primary, during a unity event at Kansas Republican Party headquarters in Topeka on Thursday.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (left) poses with Gov. Jeff Colyer, the man he narrowly beat in the Republican primary, during a unity event at Kansas Republican Party headquarters in Topeka on Thursday. Kansas City Star

Gov. Jeff Colyer called Secretary of State Kris Kobach a show pony. He slammed Kobach’s unwillingness to personally pay a contempt of court fine. And he said Kobach never takes responsibility for his failures.

Still, Colyer and Kobach stood next to each other Thursday evening and put the past behind them.

“We’ve had a lot of very spirited primaries. And you know what? All of us have learned a tremendous amount. The state is better for it because all us had ideals, ideas, energy and excitement. And being able to bring those into the general election is what this is all about,” Colyer said.

After a campaign that turned bitterly negative at times, the victor and the vanquished appeared together at Kansas GOP headquarters in a show of party unity. It stood in stark contrast to the tone of the campaign just a few days ago.

The public display came after both men emerged from last week’s primary election with an almost evenly-matched claim to be the party standard-bearer.

Both men captured 41 percent of the vote, but Kobach edged out Colyer ever so slightly. At the end of Thursday, Kobach’s lead over Colyer stood at 349 votes.

Colyer’s words of support for Kobach came after a long summer of campaigning that often featured negative attacks. Colyer’s campaign has said:

“HE NEVER TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS FAILURES” (capitalization in original)

“Kris Kobach is absurd.”

The National Rifle Association, which endorsed Colyer, wasn’t going “to get bullied by Kobach’s temper tantrums.”

So how does Colyer now justify supporting Kobach?

“I’m the Republican governor. I support a conservative, Republican running for governor. Absolutely,” Colyer said.

Pressed, Colyer said the primary was over.

Political parties often hold unity events after hard-fought primary elections as a way to signal to voters they should back the party nominee. That task is more urgent for Kansas Republicans this year, however.

Kobach wasn’t crowned the nominee for a full week after polls closed because of the extraordinarily tight margin in the race. By all accounts, Colyer appeared ready to launch a recount, a move that would have prolonged the process, but decided to concede only after failing to gain enough votes after key counties counted provisional ballots on Tuesday.

“We definitely recognize on our side that this was extremely close and that there is a huge group of Colyer supporters that we are going to need in November,” said Rep. J.R. Claeys, who manages Kobach’s campaign.

Kobach has credited a last-minute endorsement by President Donald Trump with help getting him across the finish line. On Wednesday, Trump reaffirmed his Kobach endorsement. The White House also thinks Trump’s endorsement made the difference, according to a person familiar with White House thinking.

The week of uncertainty provided Sen. Laura Kelly, the Democratic nominee, a jump start on fundraising and organizing going into the general election. The delay may also aid independent Greg Orman, who is waiting for the secretary of state’s office to certify petition signatures and place him on the ballot.

Democrats had sought to exploit the Colyer-Kobach battle. Before Colyer conceded, the Democratic Governors Association had said the ongoing fight threatened to deplete Republican resources.

Tensions between Kobach and Colyer remained high until the last moments before Colyer conceded Tuesday. The two campaigns traded letters over ballots and election procedure until just hours before the concession.

For his part, Kobach said Colyer’s decision to immediately endorse him helps keep the party united.

“I want to congratulate him on running such a hard race to a photo finish. He did very well,” Kobach said.

Rep. Steve Huebert, a Valley Center Republican, said Colyer has set a tone that will allow Republicans to reconcile after the bitter primary.

“A lot will depend on Kobach over the next coming weeks. He needs to do his part,” Huebert said about the need for party unity.

Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, said the unity message is likely more important this year for Republicans than in the past given the tight race. Kobach is, in general, controversial, so having Colyer’s immediate endorsement is helpful, he said.

Kobach campaigned against Colyer by portraying him as an establishment figure and is continuing to promise to upend the establishment.

“So here’s, in a sense, the establishment appearing with Kobach for this joint appearance,” Beatty said. “On the one hand, it’s a little bit odd. But politically, it does help him.”

Contributing: Franco Ordoñez of McClatchy DC and The Star’s Bryan Lowry
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