Sen. Laura Kelly clobbered fellow Democrats to secure the nomination for governor Tuesday night, riding a wave of support from women who were expected to be a driving force behind the surge in turnout for a party not used to having a contested primary.
Kelly, the lone woman in the race, will face Secretary of State Kris Kobach or Gov. Jeff Colyer, the Republican front-runners who remain locked in a close race.
She arrived at her watch party in Topeka’s Ramada Hotel and Convention Center — where she has held every watch party since she started her political career 14 years ago — a little after 7 p.m., confident in her victory and prepared for the challenge ahead. With about half the precincts reporting statewide, Kelly had 53 percent of the vote, compared to 20 percent for former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and 17 percent for former agriculture secretary Josh Svaty. Physician Arden Andersen secured 7 percent, and teenager Jack Bergeson claimed 2 percent.
Democrats are poised to make the general election a referendum on the policies for former Gov. Sam Brownback. Colyer served as his lieutenant, and Kobach wants to repeal tax hikes the Legislature passed in recent years to reverse years of budget crisis.
She touted her leadership positions in the Senate, where she has served Topeka since taking office in 2005, and her in-depth knowledge of state government.
“I know where all the problems are, and I know how to fix them,” Kelly said.
Kelly said many issues face the next governor. She put education in the number one position, and improvements to infrastructure and broadband that need to be made to attract businesses and bolster the state’s lagging economy. She also wants to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance coverage to more low-income Kansans.
“I learned a long time ago that the way to appeal to a lot of different people is to express their values, care about the things they care about,” she said. “That’s what I do.”