Kris Kobach fends off challenger Jean Schodorf to win secretary of state race

Standing by his wife and two of his four daughters, Kris Kobach talks to the crowd in Topeka on Tuesday after he was declared the winner in the secretary of state race.
Standing by his wife and two of his four daughters, Kris Kobach talks to the crowd in Topeka on Tuesday after he was declared the winner in the secretary of state race. The Wichita Eagle

Secretary of State Kris Kobach fended off a tough challenge from Wichita Democrat Jean Schodorf on Tuesday night in a race that served as a referendum on the state’s proof-of-citizenship voting requirement.

With most of the state’s precincts reporting, Kobach held a comfortable lead over Schodorf.

“We’re going to continue to have the toughest security laws in the country to make sure our elections are fair,” Kobach said in his victory speech at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka. “Because you know, at the end of the day if any of these races are close, you’re going to want to know, you’re going to want to have the confidence that every single vote was cast by a legitimate voter. And he we have the confidence in Kansas.”

Kobach, who was joined by his daughters, Lillian and Reagan, thanked his volunteers for donating their time and shoe leather to knock on doors in the tough campaign.

“It’s very satisfying,” Kobach said afterward. “My opponent had some pretty harsh words for me, and in a race like this, it’s emotionally taxing and tiring. And it’s good when you come out on top.”

Schodorf, who watched the results privately, had not shown up at the Democratic Party watch party at Loft 150 over the River City Brewing Co. in Old Town before supporters began trickling out at about 9:45 p.m. She expected a long night, said her political and field representative, Marcus Williamson.

“We still have a lot of precincts that haven’t been officially reported,” he said. “We’re going to be watching those throughout the night.”

Kobach carried Sedgwick County – Schodorf’s home county – with 54 percent of the vote, according to final unofficial results.

In the coming legislative session, Kobach plans to push for prosecutorial power for the secretary of state’s office to enable him to prosecute suspected cases of voter fraud.

A former state Republican chairman and a prominent attorney, he was criticized for requiring proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, a policy that had left more than 21,000 prospective voters in suspended status ahead of Election Day.

Kobach has vigorously defended the policy, arguing that every time a noncitizen votes, it robs citizens of their votes. He also says that those on the suspended list can be removed from it as long as they provide the necessary documents, such as a birth certificate or passport, to their county election office.

Schodorf voted for the policy as a member of the Kansas Senate, where she served as a Republican before losing her state Senate primary in 2012, but criticized Kobach’s implementation .

Kobach’s impartiality as the state’s chief election officer had sometimes been questioned. His political action committee, the Prairie Fire PAC, sent out mailers attacking moderate Republicans ahead of the primary, and his controversial decision to keep Democrat Chad Taylor on the ballot for U.S. Senate despite his submission of a withdrawal letter was seen by some observers as an attempt to help U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, who was in a tight race against independent Greg Orman.

Russell Fox, a political scientist at Friends University, called Kobach a political lightning rod “for people to say, ‘Yeah, it’s this particular kind of conservatism, it’s this particular type of extremism, it’s this particular type of uncompromising purity that is ruining the party.’ ”

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.