Topeka Wichita Mayor Bob Knight confirmed Saturday that he is running for governor, transforming a Republican race billed as contest between the party's feuding moderate and conservative wings.
Knight, mayor of the state's largest city for more than 10 years, joined Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall and State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger in seeking the GOP nomination. Knight told groups of Republicans about his plan at the party's annual Kansas Days convention.
"I think I have a lot of experience that can be beneficial for the state," Knight said during an interview between events. "From my vantage point, there's a lot of daunting, seemingly intractable challenges. I think I've had a pretty good record of taking those."
Knight's announcement, which came after a month of public statements suggesting he was ready to enter the race, left Republicans speculating as to how his decision affects the race. There was no consensus.
"I don't know that any of us are smart enough to say how or what the future holds," said Jack Ranson, a longtime GOP activist and former Republican National Committee member from Wichita. "He's certainly well-regarded in a lot of places in the state and has to be regarded as a significant candidate."
Republican Gov. Bill Graves, re-elected in 1998, cannot seek a third consecutive term under the Kansas Constitution. The presumed Democratic nominee for governor is Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius.
Neither Stovall nor Shallenburger expressed concern about Knight's entry into the race.
Shallenburger said he believes he already has the support of between 30 percent and
40 percent of GOP voters and is likely to need 45 percent to win the Aug. 6 primary.
"We don't believe the mayor will do well outside of Wichita, so he won't get a third of the vote, I don't think," Shallenburger said.
Stovall said she doesn't believe Knight will cut into her support outside the state's 4th Congressional District, which is centered on Wichita.
"Polls still show we're on top," she said. "We come out on top, regardless of whether Tim Shallenburger and I are head-to-head, or whether it's the three of us."
Stovall was seen as the candidate for Republicans who consider themselves moderates, including Graves. Many Republicans saw Shallenburger as the conservatives' candidate.
State GOP Chairman Mark Parkinson saw Knight's entry as positive because of continued moderate-conservative tensions within the party.
"With Bob Knight in the race, it deflects that a little bit and hopefully will turn it into more of an issues-type campaign."
Knight tried to avoid labels.
"I'm not interested in fighting over ideology. I'm really far more directed toward getting results," he said.
Knight is a former investment banker who was elected to the Wichita city council in 1979. He began serving as mayor in 1989 and has held the office since then, except for 1993-94, when he served as commerce secretary for the late Gov. Joan Finney.
Knight said he expects to make a formal announcement of his candidacy within a few weeks. He also said his campaign expects to raise $750,000.