New polling in the Kansas governor's race on Tuesday affirmed a dead heat between Democrat Laura Kelly and Republican Kris Kobach and lack of a late-campaign surge by independent Greg Orman less than two weeks before Election Day.
Examination of the five-person contest determining a replacement for Gov. Jeff Colyer suggested debates, TV commercials, endorsements and door-to-door appeals — everything capable of moving the needle on turnout — could prove important to finding the advantage needed by Kobach or Kelly to prevail Nov. 6.
In the survey by the Public Policy Polling firm Oct. 17 through Sunday, Kelly and Kobach registered at 41 percent. Orman was glued in place at 10 percent. Libertarian Jeff Caldwell netted 2 percent, with independent Rick Kloos registering at zero percent. Six percent were undecided in a poll with a 3.7 percent margin of error.
"It's just incredible the consistency of the polling — to have it, again, tied," said Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University. "It's a snapshot, but it looks like it's a complete neck-and-neck race."
He said repetition in poll results hinted that the general election could mirror the outcome of the GOP gubernatorial primary, which Kobach won over Colyer by fewer than 350 votes.
Patrick Miller, a political science faculty member at the University of Kansas, said the latest survey revealed no major movement for any candidate. It also suggests the race can remain a tossup until the election, he said.
In the survey, first reported by The Topeka Capital-Journal, Public Policy Polling inquired about a hypothetical head-to-head contest between Kelly and Kobach. The result: Kelly, 48 percent; Kobach, 44 percent.
"We see Kelly break out to a small but statistically indistinguishable lead," Miller said. "Since Orman voters were the largest chunk of minor candidate support, I think this result is consistent with what we know about Orman voters, and that is that Kelly is the second choice, over Kobach, for most of them."
On the campaign trail, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., endorsed Kobach. Roberts said Kobach's "experience and leadership" would preserve Kansas values and promote a more dynamic economy. Roberts' blessing followed endorsements by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
"Pat Roberts is a fighter for Kansas families and farmers," Kobach said. "He knows how important it will be to have a Kansas leader who will work with President Trump."
Kelly said during a news conference in southeast Kansas that she would complete construction on US-69, a highway near Pittsburg regarded as unusually dangerous. Work by the Kansas Department of Transportation stalled as state government encountered revenue problems and Gov. Sam Brownback withdrew more than $2.5 billion from KDOT.
Kobach vowed to re-establish Brownback-era income tax cuts and lower state spending to balance the budget, but Kelly argued loss of operating revenue would make it impossible to meet core obligations.
"The only way we finish this project is by electing leaders who will ensure the Brownback experiment remains a thing of the past," Kelly said. "If Kris Kobach is elected governor, Kansas will be in a world of hurt. Just like it was with Sam Brownback. And, the first thing to go will be our roads.”
This survey by Public Policy Polling, paid for by an Oregon-based Western States Strategies that strives to create a more inclusive democracy, asked questions about Kobach being found in contempt of court in April by a federal judge. The citation reflected Kobach's conduct during an unsuccessful defense of the state's law on proof of citizenship to register to vote.
In the poll, respondents were asked how they would vote in the governor's race given basic information provided by pollsters about Kobach's contempt of court issue. The result was the percentage of undecided declined 1 point; Kelly picked up 1 point, Kobach and Caldwell were unchanged; Orman lost 1 point; and Kloos added 1 point.
Miller said it didn't appear Kobach's legal issues were decisive to voters in the poll.
"When it comes to major negative stories and scandals, we tend to view those through the prism of our existing opinions," Miller said. "So, it's logical to me that you'd have voters generally say that following that law is important and that being found in contempt of court would be a serious concern about a candidate, but if it's their candidate then they excuse it or are not concerned."
The Rev. Tobias Schlingensiepen, senior minister at First Congregational Church UCC in Topeka, said 79 percent polled indicated they would be very or somewhat seriously concerned if a politician was found in contempt while a smaller percentage were concerned about Kobach's actions.
"Kansans expect our elected leaders to follow the law," he said. "Setting a good example is at the heart of leadership, and I am concerned about what example is set by an unwillingness to follow a court order."