The red state of Kansas continues to embrace the idea of serious, competitive campaign for the party’s nomination for governor despite prospects of a Republican Ron Estes versus Republican Ron Estes congressional race and the GOP campaign for attorney general involving dark-horse candidate Vermin Supreme.
Four polls indicate Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach command the most attention in the seven-person GOP field. A step away from that duo are former Sen. Jim Barnett, who was the party’s 2006 nominee, and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer. Three others — Patrick Kucera, Tyler Ruzich and Joseph Tutera — are largely unknown and far, far down in the polling.
“We are leading in the polls,” said Colyer, who became governor when Sam Brownback quit in January. “We have raised more money than any candidate. And, we are just getting started.”
Indeed, February and May polls by Remington Research Group gave Colyer a 2 percentage point lead on Kobach. Both polls had Barnett and Selzer under 10 percent.
However, the JMC Analytics and Polling survey in March put Kobach in the lead with 31 percent of the vote. The other heavyweights: Colyer, 18 percent; Barnett, 10 percent; and Selzer, 4 percent.
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka, said the latest Remington snapshot of the Republican campaign felt right from his vantage point.
“It shows, right now, it’s a close race between Colyer and Kobach. But the key number is a very high number of undecided,” Beatty said.
The percentage of likely voters who have yet to make up their mind has remained above 30 percent throughout the year. In Remington’s poll in February, the undecided accounted for 37 percent of those surveyed. It fell by March to 36 percent in the JMC poll. The most recent Remington test in May showed 30 percent were uncommitted.
So far, Colyer has worked to appeal broadly to Republican voters by endorsing a $525 million increase in state aid to K-12 schools, a big issue with moderates, and also signed a bill favored by the party’s most conservative members that allows church-based adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples or others based on sincerely held religious views.
Kobach and Selzer have sought to draw upon the voting block in Kansas that gave GOP nominee Donald Trump a landslide victory in Kansas during the 2016 presidential election. Barnett is working to appeal to the party’s centrists.
Kucera, a Johnson County resident who considers himself an “entrepreneurial evangelist,” said while filing last week that voters didn’t need to choose from among the familiar, previously elected Republicans who want to be governor.
“I’m not your typical candidate and I’m not a career politician,” he said. “Kansans are hurting, and the same old politicians with the same old tired ideas just aren’t cutting it. It is time for a change. I’ll put my lifetime of experience as an entrepreneurial evangelist to work to bring a revival of revenue to Kansas.”
Before the filing deadline Friday, Barnett attempted to pivot the political spotlight to his campaign by selecting as a running mate his wife, Rosie Hansen. He conceded the choice was unusual in terms of a lieutenant governor partner, but asserted it was no more unconventional than Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius picking former Republican Party leader Mark Parkinson as a running mate.
“Yes, picking one’s spouse as a running mate is unusual,” Barnett said. “So is picking the former party chairman of the opposing party.”
The five candidates competing for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor haven’t made public internal polling, but an April survey produced by Fort Hays State University gathered insight into name recognition of Democrats, Republicans and independents campaigning for governor.
That report showed Kobach was by far the most recognized politician in the field. He was followed, in terms of candidates who filed for the office, by independent Greg Orman, Colyer, Barnett, Democrats Carl Brewer and Laura Kelly, Selzer, and Democrats Josh Svaty, Jack Bergeson and Arden Andersen.
Several Democrats have waded into the Republican primary by denouncing Colyer as the incarnation of a third Brownback term or criticizing Kobach for his work as secretary of state or policy appeals.
Kelly, a Topeka state senator, blasted both men in her latest email message to supporters. It made reference to Brownback’s 2012 state income-tax cut, which preceded a state revenue crash that prompted budget reductions and sales tax increases. Most of the Brownback tax program was repealed in a bipartisan vote by the 2017 Legislature.
“Kris Kobach is once again proving that he would make a terrible governor. This week, after officially filing to run for governor, Kobach talked about his plan to ‘lower taxes’ in Kansas,” Kelly said. “We’ve already lived through the Brownback-Colyer failed tax plan once, and no one in Kansas is ready for the sequel.”