We have less than a month to figure out whether the Topeka rally by President Donald Trump will see if his endorsement of GOP gubernatorial candidate Secretary of State Kris Kobach is going to move the tight race in Kobach’s favor.
Similarly, we’re going to see whether his endorsement moves the tight race for 2nd District Congress to Republican Steve Watkins, who has virtually no government experience — or even experience at voting — to the relatively little-known Republican.
While a presidential visit to the state is always front-page news, Trump had his issue Saturday which was celebration of the Senate confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as the newest, and perhaps tipping-point on life issues, nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The question, of course, is will that matter to Kansas voters next month?
At the rally, Trump talked a little about general issues, the ones that rile the Kansas Legislature each session, like taxes and spending and illegal immigration. But nothing specific that would bring Kansas notoriety as a national leader or strong supporter of Trump policies on those issues. But…it’s not going to be difficult for candidates for governor and congressional seats to raise those issues to show that if they are elected, well, the president is on their side for whatever political and legislative advantage that might yield them and their constituents.
There weren’t many legislative candidates visible at the rally. Trump didn’t identify any by name, and searches of the 10,000-Republican crowd at the event didn’t turn up any legislative candidate who made it into the same photo frame as Trump. It is those state legislators who, if Kobach defeats Democratic challenger Laura Kelly, will tip Kansas government next session either in favor of Kobach or away from Kobach in floor votes or in considering vetoes.
The rally, though, probably had a positive effect on conservative Republicans trying to move some of those moderate GOP candidates toward conservative policy. There are going to be those House candidates who point to conservative party leadership, and their degree of support for that conservativism may jiggle the Legislature’s votes on state issues ranging from tax cuts to school finance to expansion of Medicaid (KanCare) to voting rights.
And there are going to be moderate Republicans who vote along with Democrats on key state issues who will be able to portray themselves as important brakes on conservative moves that would dramatically alter Kansas’ responsibility to care for the poor, the ill, the roads, the students from grade school through college.
Which side wins and which side of the GOP uses the Trump appearance to its best advantage in the general election are keys for candidates who are selling themselves to voters who are pro-Trump or anti-Trump. Democrats, seeing the GOP reaction to the presidential visit, may find ways to translate that into voter support for not taking that conservative tack in the upcoming Legislature.
Remember, when Trump carried Kansas in 2016 with 56.6 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 36 percent, that was before Trump actually had taken the wheel of the federal government. His tough trade policies that appeared for a time likely to make Kansas farmers just watch their crops and livestock they produced rather than seeing them sell at good prices, now are being shifted to what might become economic boons for those farmers. And restricting immigration, a key to Kansas productivity because those immigrants comprise a significant share of the state’s workforce, might just become another of those policy moves that may shift to help the state’s economy.
Kansans have a month to decide, or predict, what effect Trump has had on the state — and even their Kansas House districts. And then vote for or against it.
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.