Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded the Republican gubernatorial primary to state Secretary of State Kris Kobach Tuesday, a week after polls closed without a clear winner. Colyer, who became governor in January after then-Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to take an ambassadorship in the Trump administration, trailed Kobach by only 191 votes after the initial tally of the 300,000-plus cast on election day. A mix-up in reporting one county’s votes then halved that margin to 91 votes the following day, as the state dived into the some 10,000 provisional ballots to determine a winner in the race that seemed destined not only for a recount, but litigation over the count. Making the contest’s results even more hazy on the horizon, Kobach initially refused to recuse himself from his official role as secretary of state, even though it presented a clear conflict of interest actively occupying the office that oversees the administration of elections.
Colyer, however, ended his candidacy Tuesday after the tally of provisional ballots in the state’s largest county, Johnson County, saw him lose ground in his home county that he carried by six points in the general vote. It was an about-face for a candidate that appeared to be gearing up for a legal fight over the count. “Colyer’s legal team sent out a letter to the Johnson County Board of Canvassers an hour before the county certified its election results to call on the county to include 153 ballots that were being discarded because the signature did not match the one in the voter’s file,” the Kansas City Star reports. “Colyer’s legal team argued that Kansas law does not require verification as a precondition to accepting a vote.”
Colyer was trailing by just 345 votes as of Tuesday evening, with just 85 of 105 counties having counted their provisional ballots, when the governor called Kobach and conceded the race. “I’ve just had a conversation with [Kobach] and I congratulated him on his success and I repeated my determination to keep this seat in Republican hands,” Colyer said Tuesday. “The numbers are just not there unless we were to go to extraordinary measures.”
The race now moves to the general where Kobach, who made his name nationally as an advocate for Trump’s pet project of combating (so-called) voter fraud that there’s no real evidence exists. Despite Kansas’ beet red reputation, the state hasn’t elected consecutive Republicans or Democrats to the governor’s mansion in 50 years. Adding to the historical headwinds, Kobach is facing an electorate angry with the stewardship of staunch conservative Gov. Brownback after deep tax cuts left the state in economic shambles and functionally broken. The economic calamity that ensued prompted the state Legislature to step in to try to undo the tax cuts, a move so overwhelmingly popular that the state house voted to override Brownback’s veto of efforts to reverse the cuts.
Whether shoddy GOP governance will lead to a resurgent Democratic ticket in the state will fall to Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, who won a five-way race for the nomination.
Potentially complicating matters for Kelly is the presence of independent candidate businessman Greg Orman, who sailed past the 5,000 signatures required to get on the ballot, registering 10,000 backers. While the dynamics of the race are sure to change now that the candidates are set, a July poll by Remington Research Group provides an initial snapshot of the state of play. The survey of a then-hypothetical Kelly-Orman-Kobach race put Kelly and Kobach in front in a statistical tie at 36 percent for Kelly and 35 percent for Kobach, trailed by Orman at 12 percent, and 17 percent undecided.