KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) – As Kansas voters go to the polls for Tuesday’s primary, they will determine if the Sunflower State is in the firm hold of President Donald Trump’s ally or the more moderate Republicans who broke through two years ago to gain a foothold.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a longtime Trump ally and proponent of voter ID laws, hopes to unseat incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon who took over the office after former Gov. Sam Brownback accepted a diplomatic position from the Trump administration.
Kobach has made a name for himself nationally as a frequent guest on Fox News and guest columnist for Breitbart News, espousing his support for voter ID and anti-illegal immigration laws. He also served as co-chair for President Trump’s short-lived voter fraud commission.
Kobach has faced a lot of bad press in the last few months. In June, a federal judge struck down the Kansas voter ID law, which Kobach tried to defend in court against the American Civil Liberties Union. He was also forced to pay the ACLU $26,000 in legal fees for failing to carry out court orders to suspend the law, as well as a $1,000 fine for misleading the judge.
“There is only one candidate on this stage who has been fined by a federal judge for lying,” Colyer said in a debate with Kobach.
Last week, a ProPublica/Kansas City Star article detailed how Kobach left cities millions of dollars in debt after they failed to defend anti-illegal immigration laws he helped craft.
Over the weekend, two GOP consultants accused the campaign of having three white nationalists on his gubernatorial campaign staff, a charge that Kobach’s campaign has denied.
Kobach, much like President Trump, seems to have a strong base of supporters and such stories haven’t fazed them. Colyer slightly leads Kobach 34 to 32 percent in a poll of likely Republican voters released Monday by Remington Research Group, a polling firm run by GOP-affiliated Axiom Strategies.
The poll also revealed that while Colyer has a 30 percent unfavorable rating, Kobach has a 46 percent unfavorable rating.
Unlike Colyer, however, Kobach has the backing of President Trump.
“Kris Kobach, a strong and early supporter of mine, is running for Governor of the Great State of Kansas,” Trump tweeted Monday morning. “He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military. VOTE TUESDAY!”
The endorsement comes after Republican officials warned the president not to back Kobach for fear of losing the governorship to Democrats in November. Although Kansas is a solid red state, it has elected a fair share of moderate Democratic governors, including Kathleen Sebelius, who later left office to become U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama.
Republicans fear Kobach’s possible nomination could be the catalyst to drive Democrats and moderate Republicans to vote for the Democratic nominee in the general election, as well as two competitive U.S. House races.
When it comes to the money game, Kobach is leading Colyer with one important caveat. Although Kobach has raised $1.6 million to Colyer’s $834,000, most of it has come from self-funding in the form of loans from Kobach’s running mate, businessman Wink Hartman. Although the numbers are relatively small for a gubernatorial race, Kansas has low TV advertising costs compared to other states, allowing the candidates to further stretch their funds.
Colyer has attempted to distinguish himself as the more traditional conservative while trying to untether himself from former Gov. Brownback, a figure who was unpopular with most Kansas voters after the failure of his economic policy that gave tax breaks to the wealthy and limited liability companies. Kobach has repeatedly said that lawmakers’ repeal of Brownback’s tax policy was a mistake.
While Kansas has suffered economically from decreased tax revenue, the issue of school funding remains an important one. In a long running battle between legislators and school districts, the Kansas Supreme Court has ordered Topeka lawmakers for years to increase funding for public education to ensure poorer districts receive equitable funds.
While Colyer signed off on a bill that added $500 million to public schools over five years, Kobach has criticized that decision. Kobach thinks lawmakers should change the state’s constitution in order to spend less on schools.
In 2016, a recall election was held for the five Supreme Court justices in an attempt by former Gov. Brownback to replace them with his own picks who might be friendlier to a reduction in public school funding. Kansans voted to retain all of them, forcing state Republicans to concede to the court’s decision on education.
A Kobach primary win is viewed as a positive for the state’s Democrats. Although Trump won the reliably red state, according to Gallup polling, his approval rating in Kansas is currently below 50 percent, making his endorsement more of a liability for Kobach than a boon.
In July, another Remington poll found that a race between Kobach and potential Democratic nominee Sen. Laura Kelly would be a statistical dead heat, compared to a 10-point advantage Colyer would have against Kelly.
If Kobach’s firebrand political style grabs him the GOP nod, it will also spark a contentious general election in November that could favor Democrats.