Johnson County election workers were counting more than 2,500 provisional ballots Monday, a pool large enough to potentially erase Kris Kobach's slim lead for the Republican nomination in the 3rd Congressional District.
Kobach led rival Adam Taff by only 81 votes out of more than 87,100 cast after a review of provisional ballots in the district's two other counties, Douglas and Wyandotte. However, those counties added only 313 votes to results reported in last week's primary.
After Friday, the count stood at 38,261 votes for Kobach to Taff's 38,180, with a third candidate, Patricia Lightner, having 10,662. Taff and Kobach each took nearly 44 percent of the vote, while Lightner took 12 percent.
The Kobach-Taff contest has highlighted the split between conservative and moderate Republicans in Kansas. Kobach portrayed himself as the conservative candidate and Taff, the 2002 GOP nominee, had the backing of moderates.
The winner will take on Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore in the Nov. 2 general election. Johnson County officials, counting ballots at the election office, did not expect to announce results until Monday evening.
Kobach carried Douglas and Wyandotte counties, but Taff prevailed by a narrow margin in Johnson County, where most votes were cast. Taff campaign manager Bob Zender said Taff's organization is raising money for a potential race against Moore, "in case we get good news for the general."
But even if Taff carried Johnson County, his margin would have to widen significantly to pick up enough votes to overcome Kobach, said Kobach campaign manager Todd Abrajano.
"Statistically, we don't see that happening," Abrajano said.
Also, a count of provisional ballots might not end the matter. The losing candidate will have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to ask the Kansas secretary of state's office for a recount. The candidate would pay, unless the results are overturned, in which case the state would pay.
Abrajano said Kobach hasn't decided whether he would see a recount should his lead disappear.
As for Taff, Zender said: "That is an option that is open to us, but I wouldn't care to speculate at this time. They are expensive."
The initial count from last week's primary showed Kobach leading by 87 votes. He had 38,124 votes to 38,037 for Taff.
Provisional ballots are set aside by election officials when they are not sure people are eligible to vote in a particular race or precinct. Each ballot remains in a sealed envelope until a county board of canvassers decides whether it should be counted, then it is opened.
Johnson County had 3,209 provisional ballots, and Monday morning, the canvassers -- the county commission -- decided to count 2,533 of them. Another 676 were not counted.
Taff, a 39-year-old former Navy and commercial pilot from Lake Quivira, did not stop campaigning after losing a close race to Moore in 2002. Kobach, 38, of Overland Park, worked three years for the U.S. Justice Department and is a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Lightner, 47, has served in the Kansas House for six years.