Opinion Columns & Blogs

Ten things to know about the 2018 Kansas governor’s race

Burdett Loomis, Professor, Political Science, University of Kansas
Burdett Loomis, Professor, Political Science, University of Kansas Courtesy photo

I know, it’s still more than 13 months before Kansans elect a governor, so why such early analysis? A reasonable question, but given that we have more than 10 announced or probable candidates, it makes sense to think things through. Let’s go.

1. The 2018 election shapes up as the most wide open and uncertain since Kansas adopted four-year terms for governor in 1974. There are seven Republican candidates, five Democratic.

2. The best-known GOP candidate is also the least liked. Secretary of State Kris Kobach has the highest name recognition; being a well-known Republican should be an advantage. But Kobach is far more notorious than popular. Indeed, when one recent survey identified him with a given immigration policy, support for that policy dropped by 10 percentage points.

3. If Kobach is nominated, torrents of national money will flow into Kansas, a lot for Kobach, but far more against him. He’s spent seven years making himself a national figure, with the upshot that he will serve as a powerful magnet for out-of-state money to oppose his candidacy.

4. Democratic candidates Jim Ward, Carl Brewer and Josh Svaty reside far away from the votes they need most. The primary will favor the candidate who can do well in Johnson, Wyandotte, Douglas, and Shawnee counties, as opposed to Wichita and rural Kansas.

5. Might a Democrat from northeast Kansas still enter the race? Despite much recruitment and enticement, it looks unlikely. Several moderate Republicans from Johnson County might well have put themselves in a good position to seek the nomination by switching parties before the 2016 elections.

6. I want to be in the room when a GOP consultant outlines the “path to victory” to all the Republican candidates except Kobach. “Ken Seltzer, here is how you distinguish yourself from the Republican herd and then defeat the candidate (Kobach) with a stranglehold on the far-right voters who dominate primary elections.”

7. Will there be six or seven GOP candidates, or will it winnow down to three or four? For Kobach, of course, given his attraction to base voters, the more the merrier.

8. Will (Can?) an anti-abortion Democrat, Josh Svaty, win that party’s primary? A truly difficult task, even though he might be the strongest general election candidate.

9. Did the 2016 election foreshadow a return to moderate-conservative government? If the Kansas House retains its partisan balance and someone not named Kobach wins, the answer is yes.

10. Will Greg Orman run as an independent? Orman’s decision complicates everything. Republicans see him as a Democrat, Democrats see him as the ultimate spoiler. Orman sees himself as a savior. Kobach, who might well lose a head-to-head race with a Democrat, likely sees him as his best pathway to Cedar Crest.

Burdett Loomis is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Kansas.