HUTCHINSON — Kansas Democratic gubernatorial nominee State Sen. Laura Kelly made her way at noon Monday through a gauntlet of supporters inside Bluebird Books & Cafe and was surprised by what she found at the end: A room packed with about 60 supporters.
"I had no idea you all were back here," Kelly said.
On the eve of Election Day, Kelly and her chief rival, Republican gubernatorial candidate Secretary of State Kris Kobach, followed busy scheduldes that had each of them at one point in the state's largest city, Wichita.
"The energy, the enthusiasm, everywhere we go is like this, absolutely packed to the gills," Kelly said about the closing days on the campaign trail.
The bipartisan traveling team of Kelly and former Republican Gov. Bill Graves attracted a bipartisan audience to Bluebird Books. Former Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, who also is backing Kelly over Kobach, as well as State Rep. Jason Probst, Hutchinson, the lone Democrat in Reno County's legislative delegation, were among those at Kelly's stop here.
"This will be a close race," Kelly told the crowd. "We need to make that margin wide enough," she said, so there is no question of who is the next governor, she said.
"Every vote is going to count," Graves said. "We can't let this one get away from us."
Graves, now president and chief executive officer of American Trucking Associations, said the state had slipped in the last eight years at maintaining roads and infrastructure, schools, and the social safety net. "There is so much to do," he said.
Addressing problems with foster care, mental health care services, and the state's prisons are on Kelly's agenda. She also wants to reinstate the Kansas Arts Commission to help leverage federal aid and hopes a Medicaid expansion bill moves again from the Legislature to the governor's desk. Former Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed such a bill; Kelly would sign it.
Medicaid expansion would give 150,000 Kansans coverage and also would create jobs, she said. Small hospitals in Independence and Fort Scott have closed and another 28 to 30 hospitals are "on the brink," Kelly said.
Although Kelly would like a "wide enough" margin, she also said later when asked about the margin, "I just need one more vote."
As for monitoring of voting Tuesday, Kelly said, "There are safeguards in place across the state. We are watching closely what's going on at some of the polling places, you'll see it, you'll feel it."
"I can't imagine that there are not a bevy of attorneys who are watching Kansas very closely, and they'll be on call," she said.
Graves called himself "the warmup act for Laura Kelly." He said he was thrilled that two former Republican U.S. Senators, Nancy Kassebaum Baker and Sheila Frahm, and former Republican Gov. Mike Hayden, have endorsed Kelly, too.
"I think it speaks volumes of our sort of collective sense of the challenges the state faces and who is best suited to deal with them," Graves said later. The manner in which elected officials conduct themselves and the manner in which they govern are a concern, too, he said.
Los Angeles Times' reporter Matt Pearce was in Hutchinson to cover Kelly's stop and planned to cover a Kobach campaign stop later. The national media is watching the Kobach-Kelly race for potential ramifications for President Donald Trump's re-election campaign in 2020. Kobach has close ties to the Trump administration, and his conservative stands make the governor's race a potential bellwether for Trump.
Graves said he didn't know about the parallels between Kansas and the nation, but he did see a connection between the political styles of Trump and Kobach. People believe that people in the highest positions of public trust have a responsibility, Graves said, to act in a manner that brings respect for the job.
Kelly also urged the audience to vote for Democrat Brian McClendon, running for secretary of state. "We are honestly blessed," she said, to have McClendon on that ticket.