WICHITA, Kan. (AP) Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer says he will endorse Republican nominee for governor Kris Kobach after conceding in the states GOP primary in a surprise announcement a week after their neck-and-neck finish threatened to send the race to a recount.
Colyer accepted defeat Tuesday evening after a review of some provisional ballots from most Kansas counties failed to find enough votes for him to overcome a deficit of 110 votes at the time the polls closed in the Aug. 7 primary, out of more than 311,000 votes initially counted. Kobach, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump, has seen his lead widen as the counting of provisional ballots continues into next week across the state.
Ive just had a conversation with the secretary of state and congratulated him on his success and repeated my determination to keep this seat in Republican hands, Colyer said. This election may be the closest in America. But the numbers are not there.
Trump tweeted his congratulations Wednesday morning, saying Kobach won a tough race against a very fine opponent. He added: Kris will win in November and be a great Governor.
Kobach , 52, has a national conservative following thanks to his strong stance against illegal immigration and his fervent defense of voter ID laws. He was vice chairman of the Trump administrations election-fraud commission, though the commission eventually found no evidence to support Trumps claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. Kobachs voter fraud efforts also took a hit in June when a federal judge found the proof-of-citizenship voter registration law he championed was unconstitutional.
Colyer, by contrast, is far more low-key. The 58-year-old plastic surgeon from suburban Kansas City served as lieutenant governor for seven years and took over as governor in January, when Sam Brownback resigned to become ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom .
Kobach has been a lightning rod for controversy, and some Democrats believe their party has a better chance to capture the governors seat with him as their Republican opponent instead of Colyer.
Never in modern Kansas history has any major partys nominee for governor been viewed as poorly by everyday Kansans than Kris Kobach, said Ethan Corson, the executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party. As the drawn-out Republican primary shows, even a significant number of Republican primary voters had and likely still have deep misgivings about the person now at the top of the GOP ticket.
Kobach will go against Democrat Laura Kelly, and is likely to face independent candidate Greg Orman, in the November general election in the decidedly conservative state. The bid from Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman who has launched what could become the most serious independent candidacy for governor since the 1930s, complicates Democrats efforts to recapture the governors office.
In a statement after Colyers announcement, Kelly said Kansas families already suffered enough under former Gov. Brownback and that the state doesnt need someone like Kobach who has pledged to bring back the same policies.
With Kris Kobach as Governor, Kansans get all the failed policies of Sam Brownback plus Kobachs unique brand of hyper-partisanship and self-promotion, Kelly said. Quite simply, Kris Kobach is Sam Brownback on steroids, and thats the last thing that Kansans need right now.
Before becoming governor, Colyer was a loyal No. 2 to Brownback, even when budget problems that followed Brownbacks aggressive income tax cuts caused his approval levels to plummet. Lawmakers in 2017 rolled back most of those cuts.
The disputed race between Colyer and Kobach was intense and prompted a lengthy county-by-county review of provisional ballots . The aftermath of the primary included both candidates challenging each others legal interpretations , sending observers to monitor the vote count and raising the specter of lawsuits.
But in the end, Colyer and Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann said they are committed to supporting Republican nominee Kobach and helping him win in November.
We will make sure the next governor is fully prepared and has our total cooperation in the peaceful transition of power, Colyer told reporters in Topeka. He left without taking questions.
Kobach said in a statement that he received a call from Colyer before Colyers news conference where he conceded.
He was incredibly gracious, and that meant a lot after such a hard-fought campaign, Kobach said. I want to thank Gov. Jeff Colyer for a race well run. He was a worthy opponent, and I thank him sincerely for his service to the state of Kansas. I will work hard to advance our shared values, and I look forward to working with Gov. Colyer and all Republicans to keep Kansas red in November.
Colyer is the first Kansas governor to lose a primary since 1956, and the first nationally since Hawaiis Neil Abercrombie lost a Democratic primary in 2014.
Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka, said there was still a small chance that a recount could have revealed something to change Colyers chances, but the odds were very much against him. By conceding, Colyer has made it possible for him to run for another office in the future, Beatty said.
Both Kelly and Orman want to face Kobach in the fall, Beatty said, noting several polls showing Kobach weaker in the field than Colyer.
Now that doesnt mean Kobach cant win, Beatty said. Lets just say there might have been three parties tonight Kobach, Orman and Kelly.the exception.
The 52-year-old Republican has a take-no-prisoners style of conservatism that delights hard-right members of the GOP but makes him a prime target of Democrats and centrists.
Now, Kobach is the GOP nominee in the gubernatorial race. Incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded the primary race Tuesday night a week after the too-close-to-call vote threatened to send the race to a recount.
Despite holding what is usually a low-profile state post, Kobach has gained a national following, thanks to his tough stand on immigration and his push for stricter voter ID laws. Polling shows he has strong name recognition and high negatives.
Consider his running battle with the American Civil Liberties Union. Faiz Shakir, national political director for the ACLU, said Kobach rises to the very top of any list of candidates whose records alarm the group.
Kobach responded by saying the ACLUs attacks actually helped him in the Republican primary.
He tends to bring out strong feelings among the voters.
Nineteen-year-old college student Tom Teeter of Topeka said of the possibility of Kobach being governor, Oh, God, it horrifies me.
He is doing his best to stop immigration and the illegal voting, said 73-year-old retiree Richard Cronister of Topeka, adding approvingly: The ACLU and all those organizations are against him.
Educated at Harvard, Yale and Oxford, Kobach was an official with the U.S. Justice Department and Kansas Republican Party chairman before being elected secretary of state in 2010.
He immediately became known for helping to draft tough laws against illegal immigration, including Arizonas show your papers law in 2010. He called Kansas the sanctuary state of the Midwest for failing to enact more stringent policies. He was an early supporter of Donald Trump and has advised the president on immigration.
He is a staunch abortion opponent, wants to make Kansas laws even friendlier for gun owners and says he will push hard for tax cuts if elected governor.
Trump enthusiastically endorsed Kobach over the incumbent a day before the primary.
Kris Kobach, a strong and early supporter of mine, is running for Governor of the Great State of Kansas, Trump tweeted. 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.
Kobachs national prominence rose during his crusade for strict voter ID laws. He called voter fraud a significant problem in Kansas, citing dozens of non-citizens on the states voter rolls and nine criminal election-fraud cases he brought as secretary of state.
Critics such as Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, have accused Kobach of engaging in voter suppression. And many election experts say voter fraud is extremely rare.
But many GOP leaders across the country agree with him that it is rampant and requires tough ID laws. Trump named Kobach vice chairman of the presidents election-fraud commission, with Vice President Mike Pence as chairman.
Kobachs voter ID efforts have taken some recent hits, though. In June, a federal judge found the Kansas law unconstitutional. And the commission found no evidence to support Trumps claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election.
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