Elections

Democrat Laura Kelly defeats Kris Kobach to become Kansas governor

Kris Kobach talks about Orman, polling and his role as secretary of state during election

Republican candidate for governor Kris Kobach spoke with reporters prior to his watch party in Topeka.
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Republican candidate for governor Kris Kobach spoke with reporters prior to his watch party in Topeka.

9 p.m.: NBC News has called the Kansas governor’s race for Democrat Laura Kelly.

Kelly supporters who gathered in Topeka cheered as the call was announced.

8:25 p.m.: A prominent figure from the Kansas Democrats’ primary race for governor made an appearance at Democrat Laura Kelly’s watch party Tuesday night.

Katrina Lewison, who was Josh Svaty’s running mate during the primary campaign, briefly addressed the crowd gathered to watch the returns come in.

Svaty came in third in the August Democratic primary, after Kelly and former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer.

Since the election, Svaty has more or less remained silent on the governor’s race. Lewison became a vocal supporter of Kelly, however.

“She has taught many lessons I would really like to emulate. For instance, I would really like to emulate how she trounced all of her primary opponents,” Lewison said of Kelly as the crowd laughed.

8:06 p.m.: With 332,618 votes counted, Democrat Laura Kelly has 183,141 votes; Republican Kris Kobach has 126,847; and independent Greg Orman has 17,166 votes.

Most of the votes are likely from advance ballots. Only 116 of 3,556 precincts are reporting.

Updated 7:10 p.m.: Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley predicted that Laura Kelly will win.

Asked what the first 100 days of Kelly’s administration would look like in the Legislature, Hensley said it depends on who will be in the Legislature to work with her.

“It depends on how many House seats the House Democrats pick up,” Hensley said.

Every House seat is up for election tonight, and the outcomes of those elections will determine whether Democrats add seats or if the Republican caucus becomes more conservative.

Updated 7 p.m.: Polls have now closed across Kansas.

Updated 6:30 p.m.: Kansas voters cast ballots at a faster clip this year than during the last governor election in 2014.

As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, 152,267 voted ballots had been returned; and 249,464 people had voted in person, according to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.

In 2014, 114,690 ballots had been voted and returned at that point, with 115,079 votes cast in person

Updated 5 p.m.: Speaking to reporters in Topeka this afternoon, Republican Kris Kobach said he will recuse himself if the race for governor comes down to provisional ballots, similar to what happened in the GOP primary in August, when Kobach beat Gov. Jeff Colyer by 343 votes.

At that time, Kobach handed over his election duties to longtime deputy Eric Rucker. Democrats and others said the recusal did not go far enough because of Rucker’s proximity and support for Kobach (he donated to Kobach’s campaign,)

People nationally have been taking about a blue wave of Democratic victories, but Kobach said he thinks there will also be a “red counterwave” of Republican victories.

Kobach was mum about President Donald Trump’s comment at an October rally that he’ll bring Kobach into the administration if he loses the race.

“I have not had those discussions with the president,” Kobach said. “But it was an interesting joke, that’s for sure.”

Kobach’s opponent, Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly, has also expressed confidence in the race.

On Friday, Kelly said advance voting numbers boded well for her. She said she was “exhilarated.”

“It feels very much like the momentum is on our side,” Kelly said in a brief interview.

Original story: Republican Kris Kobach will soon see if divided opposition and his campaign styled in the tradition of President Donald Trump will be enough to hold off Democrat Laura Kelly’s attempt to woo both liberals and disenchanted independents and Republicans in this year’s race for governor.

Polls close at 7 p.m. in the race, but as long as voters are in line by that time they will be able to cast a ballot.

The race is seen as a toss-up since Kobach beat Gov. Jeff Colyer in the August GOP primary by 343 votes. Despite a slew of third party candidates, including independent Greg Orman, Kelly and Kobach have polled even during the final weeks of the campaign.

Kobach, the secretary of state, and Kelly, a Topeka state senator, would take Kansas in sharply different directions.

Kobach promises a hard-right approach marked by tax cuts and shrinking government. He wants to place additional restrictions on welfare and advocates a hardline stance toward undocumented immigrants.

Kobach has signaled he will pursue a confrontational style of politics and won’t be afraid of a fight. His national prominence and frequent cable news appearances are likely to draw fresh attention to Kansas after years in the spotlight under former Gov. Sam Brownback, whose tax cuts triggered budget woes.

“If I’m elected, I will lead,” Kobach said last week.

Kelly has said she will govern as a moderate. She has highlighted her time in the Kansas Senate, where she says she has been cultivating bipartisan relationships since arriving in 2005.

Kelly promises stability after the turbulence of the Brownback years. But she has also vowed action to fix the state’s child welfare system. And she wants to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program — a move that could affect more than 400,000 participants.

“We can either go back to the Sam Brownback devastating years or we can elect a governor who will work like the devil to rebuild our state,” Kelly said.

Trump, who endorsed Kobach the day before the GOP primary, threw his full support behind Kobach repeatedly as Election Day neared. He applauded Kobach for being with him “from the beginning,” during an October rally in Topeka.

“He’s tough, he’s strong and I hated that he ran because I would have loved to have brought him into my administration. In fact, if he loses, I’ll bring him into my administration in two seconds,” Trump said. “I hope he loses because I want him so badly, but don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.”

The Kansas governor’s election comes during nationwide midterm contests that are largely seen as a referendum on the first two years of Trump’s presidential term. No Kansas politician has more closely aligned himself with Trump than Kobach, who has informally advised the president on immigration and voter fraud.

While Kobach tethered himself to the nation’s top Republican, Kelly won the backing of past Kansas Republican leaders, like Govs. Bill Graves and Mike Hayden.

Former Republican U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum also endorsed Kelly, saying, “It seems to me that Kobach has developed a record that shows a focus on ways and how to accomplish his end goals that I think are not the best for Kansas.”

Before election night, House Speaker Ron Ryckman declined to do an interview about what Kobach’s win or loss would mean for Kansas.

“The speaker is solely focused on House campaigns,” his spokesman said.

Kobach spent the final days of the campaign trekking around the state on a “Remain Red” tour with fellow Republicans. Heading into Tuesday’s election, the Kansas Republican Party was 32-0 in federal and statewide elections since Sam Brownback became the Republican nominee for governor in 2010.

Before voting in Topeka on Tuesday morning, Kelly capped her campaign with stops in the Wichita area alongside Graves, the last moderate Republican to hold the governor’s office, and former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Kelly established a money advantage over Kobach, outraising him by more than $900,000 between late July and late October.

Kobach’s running mate, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, loaned the campaign more than $1.5 million during that time. Kelly and her running mate, Wichita Sen. Lynn Rogers, gave minimal amounts to their campaign.

Kelly’s campaign has also spent significantly more than Kobach. From July 27 through Oct. 25, Kelly spent $2 million while Kobach spent $1.3 million.

Orman collected $805,351 during that same period, with $580,000 of that coming from himself. He spent $1.2 million. But none of it improved Orman’s standing in the polls, where he remained at either 9 or 10 percent.

Throughout the race, Democrats feared that Orman would draw away voters who would otherwise vote for Kelly, and possibly hand Kobach the election.

That fear even came from inside Orman’s campaign. In the final days of the race, Tim Owens, a former Republican state senator, resigned his position as Orman’s campaign treasurer and instead endorsed Kelly as the only way to stop Kobach.

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