Though fractured, GOP is still favored


August 15, 2018 - 10:30 AM

Last week’s Kansas primaries revealed just how fractured the state’s Republican party is.
Consider this — Republicans are on the precipice of ousting a sitting governor in a party primary for the first time since 1954 in favor of a conservative lightning rod whom the Republican Governors Association doesn’t want as a candidate. And yet the GOP remains the favorite to retain its hold on the governor’s office, no matter who eventually emerges from the primary.
There’s an old saying that Democrats want to fall in love, while Republicans want to fall in line. Well, someone forgot to tell Jim Barnett, Ken Selzer and most of all, Kris Kobach, to get in line. The decision by the three veteran Republicans to challenge their party’s state leader has left incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer in a 121-vote hole to Kobach with thousands of provisional and mail-in ballots still to count.
If Barnett or Selzer had stepped aside, it seems Colyer would have cruised to a primary win in more of a head-to-head matchup with Kobach. But the party is still smarting over the internal divisions created by Sam Brownback’s run as governor. Colyer, who took over last December when Brownback was appointed to an ambassador role in the Trump administration, has tried to walk the fine line between moderates and conservatives as a sort of “Brownback lite” candidate. But moderates aren’t buying that Colyer, Brownback’s lieutenant governor for seven years, is all that different from the governor he served. That perception allowed Barnett and Selzer to peel off 17 percent — more than 50,000 votes — of the ballots cast in the primary.
Kobach is a conservative firebrand who has built his resume by touting some of the nation’s most restrictive voter registration policies and targeting immigrants. His fiscal and social leanings are right of Brownback, so much so that the Republican Governors Association fears that a Kobach primary win would make vulnerable what was thought to be among the GOP’s safest governorships.
Colyer could certainly still win — 121 votes isn’t a lot to make up and many believe the mail-in ballots left to count favor the governor. But Kobach has the lead and thus remains the favorite.
The good news for Republicans? Their candidate will face two major candidates in November, Democrat Laura Kelly, a state senator from Topeka who cruised to a primary win, and Independent Greg Orman, a businessman from Johnson County who last week turned in a petition with twice as many signatures as needed to get on the ballot.
In the 2016 election, the state’s party affiliation broke out 44.4 percent Republican, 24.7 percent Democrat and 29.9 percent unaffiliated or independent. That’s a healthy advantage for the GOP in a three-way race. It will be difficult for Orman, who ran a close race as an independent against Republican Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014, or Kelly to overcome that Republican advantage when they’re competing with one another for votes from Democrats and independents.
Tuesday’s primary showed Republicans are divided over the direction of their party. But the way things are unfolding, they still have the inside track to retaining the governor’s office.
— The Lawrence

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