Kansas voters' frustration with illegal immigration gave law professor Kris Kobach the Republican nomination for Kansas secretary of state in Tuesday night's primary.
Kobach, a former state GOP chairman who helped write Arizona's new law on illegal immigration, had nearly 53 percent of the vote with 79 percent of the state's precincts reporting on a three-way race. Kobach has linked attacking illegal immigration to combating voter fraud.
He'll face incumbent Democrat Chris Biggs of Junction City in the November general election. Biggs, appointed to the job in March by Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, defeated state Sen. Chris Steineger of Kansas City with 60 percent of the vote.
Republicans also anointed U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback as their nominee for governor over token opposition and selected Kansas Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt of Independence as their candidate for attorney general against incumbent Democrat Steve Six. Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger also prevailed in her GOP primary and faces no opponent this fall.
The fall campaign for secretary of state is likely to focus on Kobach's proposals to require voters to show photo identification at the polls and provide proof of citizenship when they register for the first time. His critics have accused him of using scare tactics about illegal immigrants, but his message resonated with many GOP voters.
"I think we need to do something about our borders," said Frank Doan, a 53-year-old salesman from the Kansas City-area suburb of Olathe, who backed Kobach. "We can't stop terrorism or anythi ng like that if we don't close the borders, and I'm all for legal immigration but not just opening it up."
But many Democrats and GOP moderates question whether Kobach can win the general election, when their groups will have more influence.
Ann Cummins, a Topeka corrections officer in her late 50s, is a Democrat who voted for Biggs because she wants a moderate candidate. She said her ancestors were Irish immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in 1864 and often faced discrimination.
"It's kind of like the Vietnamese 20 years ago," she said. "Look at them now — the kids are highly educated and in college."
In his GOP race, Kobach of Piper outside Kansas City, Kan., faced Shawnee County Election Commissioner Elizabeth Ensley of Topeka and J.R. Claeys, a former chief executive officer of the Nation al Association of Government Contractors from Salina. Ensley received 28 percent of the vote and Claeys 20 percent.
Kobach's positions on voter fraud issues were overshadowed by his notoriety as an adviser to city officials and state legislators across the nation who want to crack down on illegal immigration . He's said that if he's elected, he'll work as secretary of state between 40 and 50 hours a week, then spend an additional 20 hours on immigration issues.
Claeys was skeptical enough to demand that his opponents sign a pledge to be a full-time secretary of state. Neither did, though Ensley also criticized Kobach over the issue.
Biggs was the appointed replacement for four-term incumbent Ron Thornburgh, who resigned to take a private sector job.
Biggs had the endorsements of Parkinson and the Legislature's top two Democrats. Also, Steineger was fined $5,000 this spring by the state ethics commission for a campaign finance violation.
Meanwhile, Brownback had little trouble in his GOP primary race overcoming Joan Heffington of Derby, a former home builder and retired Boeing purchasing agent. Heffington promised that if elected, she'd put every bill reaching her desk through a biblical test and public poll.
The lone Democratic candidate for governor is state Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City.
In the attorney general's race, Schmidt handily defeated Junction City prosecutor Ralph DeZago. Six had no opposition on the Democratic side.
In the insurance commissioner's race, Praeger defeated Dave Powell, an El Dorado insurance agent who's a tea party favorite. There were no candidates outside the GOP, so Praeger's victory guaranteed her re-election.
In the state treasurer's race, neither Democratic incumbent Dennis McKinney of Greensburg nor GOP challenger Ron Estes, the Sedgwick County treasurer from Wichita, had primary opponents.