First polls for 2022 Kansas governor's race show it could be close between Laura Kelly, Derek Schmidt
Putting aside the wildcard that is former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has cleared the field for the Republican nomination for governor, setting up a 2022 general election race against incumbent Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
For months, people from both parties have been asking me, “What about the governor’s race?” and I haven’t been able to give any real answers, for the simple reason that no publicly released polling was available. We can ruminate all we want, but absent data, it’s just speculation, or in the case of partisans, hopes and dreams.
Patrick Miller, a Kansas elections professor and guru, calls it something else: “Folks should cut past the crap from people who get paid to spin this stuff and get to the bottom-line math.”
Well, we’ve finally got two polls on a possible 2022 Kelly-Schmidt matchup, so let’s get to them.
The first, by Remington Research, a Republican pollster out of Kansas City, was done in early September and shows Schmidt leading Kelly 44%-40% with 16% undecided. It has a margin of error of 3%. The second, by Clarity Campaign Labs, a Democratic pollster in Washington, D.C., was done in mid-September and shows Kelly leading Schmidt 47%-44% with 8% undecided. It has a margin of error of 3.4%.
So, two polls with neither showing a strong leader. Taking into account the margin of error for the polls, either candidate could be ahead. Put simply, among voters who are committed already, the race looks pretty even.
And the data reveal that both campaigns have reason to be happy.
For Schmidt, Remington is showing him beating Kelly by 27 points in western Kansas and by 8 points in the 4th congressional district, which includes Wichita. In a state where more than 55% of the voters are Republicans, it also shows Schmidt winning 59% of the Republican vote and has Schmidt only 1 point behind Kelly with unaffiliated voters, getting 37% to Kelly’s 38%.
In the 2018 Election Day exit poll of Kansas voters who actually voted in the governor’s race, 56% of independents said they voted for Laura Kelly and only 17% for Republican Kris Kobach, so this is a number to keep an eye on.
For Kelly, there are also some bright spots. Remington shows her with 23% of Republicans supporting her, whereas in the 2018 exit poll only 17% of Republican voters said they had voted for her. Geographically, in the Remington poll, she’s ahead of Schmidt by 1 point in the 2nd congressional district and leading him 49%-36% in the all-important 3rd district, which contains voter-rich Kansas City and its suburbs.
These early numbers emphasize the important role moderates may play in the race. According to Miller, Kelly’s challenge will be to “motivate Democrats but also find that message that is going to win swayable Independents and Republicans who are not staunch conservatives in the Brownback and Trump style.”
In 2018, the exit poll showed that self-described moderates made up 33% of all voters and 63% of them went for Laura Kelly and only 24% for Kobach. Schmidt’s challenge will be to motivate conservatives without alienating moderates, something that Kris Kobach was unable to do but imperative for Schmidt.