Colyer concedes GOP primary, congratulates Kobach

photo by: Peter Hancock

Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded the Republican gubernatorial primary and congratulated Secretary of State Kris Kobach on winning a historically narrow victory. Colyer made the announcement Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, during a Statehouse news conference surrounded by his wife, Ruth, two of their daughters and Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann.

Story updated at 8:49 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018:

TOPEKA – Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer on Tuesday conceded the hotly contested Republican gubernatorial primary and congratulated Secretary of State Kris Kobach on his win.

Colyer made the announcement at a Statehouse news conference around 7:30 p.m., surrounded by his family and Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann. Although some counties are still canvassing their ballots, and Colyer currently trails Kobach by only 345 votes, Colyer said the results could not be turned around short of extraordinary measures.

“Tracey and I will not be challenging this in court, nor will we be asking for a recount,” Colyer said. “Right here and now, we will endorse the winner, Kris Kobach and (running mate) Wink Hartman.”

Colyer’s announcement came at the end of a day in which the state’s two largest counties, Johnson and Sedgwick, reported the results of their final canvasses. Combined with results from several smaller counties, that pushed Kobach’s lead to 345 votes out of more than 316,000 ballots cast, a margin of just 0.1 percent.

But in the end, Colyer conceded that was an insurmountable lead. That’s because there are only 15 counties remaining that have not yet counted their provisional ballots, most of them small, rural counties where there aren’t very many ballots at stake.

The Colyer campaign had been hopeful about Johnson County because as of Friday, after late-arriving mail ballots had been counted, Colyer was leading in that county, 43 percent to 34 percent over Kobach.

But the final canvass in Johnson County ended up giving Kobach a net gain of 24 ballots, further widening his margin.

The three largest counties yet to complete their canvasses are Wyandotte, Douglas and Shawnee. Combined, those counties only have 1,445 ballots left to count. All three of those counties will conduct canvasses on Thursday.

Typically, only about 60 percent of provisional ballots are eventually counted, which would lower that number to 867 ballots. And based on those counties’ voter registration numbers, as many as half of those are likely to be Democratic ballots that won’t factor into the Republican primary, making it virtually impossible for Colyer to amass enough new votes to overtake Kobach’s lead.

Colyer’s announcement brought to an end a primary election that had been too close to call for a week. But it also finally allowed all the candidates in the race to begin focusing on the general election campaign ahead.

Democratic nominee Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, immediately issued a statement saying she was prepared to take on Kobach.

“Kansans have made it very clear they want to slam the door on the failed Brownback experiment that Kris Kobach represents,” Kelly said in a statement released shortly after Colyer’s news conference. “They want strong schools, good jobs, balanced budgets without new taxes, and a growing economy.”

Kobach said in a statement that he received a call from Colyer before Colyer’s 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.”

There will be a stark contrast between Kelly, a centrist Democrat, and Kobach, who has described himself as a “full-throttle conservative.” But there will be another factor in the race that will change the dynamic in favor of one candidate or the other, independent candidate Greg Orman.

The secretary of state’s office is expected to announce soon whether Orman submitted enough valid petition signatures to get on the November ballot, but Orman has said he submitted more than twice the number necessary.

Orman, a Johnson County businessman, ran a close race in 2014 against Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, but that was a race in which there was no Democratic candidate.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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