Trump Allies Trail Behind in Kansas Primary

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks with a reporter in his office in Topeka, Kansas. (Orlin Wagner / AP)

(CN) — Two Republican candidates who have tied themselves to President Donald Trump find themselves trailing establishment candidates in early returns from the Kansas primary.

According to results released by the state, Representative Roger Marshall has 37% of support to former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s 27% in a contest to replace retiring Senator Pat Roberts. The Associated Press called Marshall as the winner at 9:07 p.m. Outsider candidate Bob Hamilton, a plumbing entrepreneur who has never held elected office, received 20%. Fifty-three percent of precincts have reported.

Marshall will face Democrat Barbara Bollier, who has 88% of the vote in a contest against perennial candidate Robert Tillman. The general election contest has looked like a toss-up in recent polls, regardless of who Republicans pick to face Bollier, who herself was a Republican until she switched parties in 2018.

In the most anticipated House race, incumbent Steve Watkins faces a serious deficit to State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, with LaTurner having a 49% to 34% lead with 57% of precincts reporting.

Watkins made national headlines last month when he was charged with three felonies for voter fraud after it was revealed that he used a UPS Store as his home address on voter registration forms. To make the matter worse for him, the charges were announced just minutes before he took the stage for a televised debate.

Both Kobach and Watkins have tied themselves closely to President Trump for years. Kobach served on Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity as vice chair in 2017, a group that was intended to bolster claims of rampant voter fraud that disbanded after a year without issuing a report. 

As for Watkins, last week Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University, told Courthouse News that Watkins “allied his campaign with Trump’s like a hand in a glove.”

These two races were expected to be too close to call after a somewhat bizarre primary campaign that saw an incumbent representative claiming that his own party engaged in dirty tricks against him and a liberal political action committee advertising on behalf of one of the nation’s most notorious liberal foils.

According to these early results, Democrats might not get what they wished for in facing Kobach. 

Marshall currently represents the 3rd Kansas Congressional District, a seat formerly held by the state’s two current senators, Jerry Moran and the retiring Pat Roberts.

Two House incumbents, Sharice Davids, D-KS3, and Ron Estes, R-D4, were unopposed.

Polls closed at 7 p.m., though the state will accept all valid mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Tuesday and arrive in election offices before 5 p.m. on Friday.

“With the high number of advance by-mail ballots, we anticipate the results in close elections could fluctuate more than in previous years,” Katie Koupal, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, told Courthouse News.

Andrew Howell, the Election Commissioner of Shawnee County, echoed that sentiment, predicting that there will be a “fair number” of ballots dropped into mailboxes on election night.

“If I would guess, we’re not going to know who some of those winners are if there’s a close race. There are so many advanced ballots in the system and the law allows us to count every ballot that comes in Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” Howell said in an interview.

All voters in Kansas can request absentee ballots without having to provide an excuse.

Earlier this year, Kansas received $4.6 million in CARES Act funding for the 2020 election. According to Koupal, $2.6 million of that has been used to reimburse county election expenses caused by Covid-19 and $1 million was spent on masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray for polling places.

Koupal said last week that voters were being encouraged to follow recommended safety protocols about social distancing and wearing masks.

“No voter will be turned away for wearing, or not wearing, a mask,” Koupal said.

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