NRA backs Colyer over Kobach in Kansas race for governor

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach are pictured in this file photo from June 23, 2018, in Salina, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA — Kansas conservative firebrand Kris Kobach, who appears in parades riding a jeep with a replica machine gun mounted on back, failed Monday to land the coveted endorsement from the National Rifle Association in the Republican primary race for governor.

Instead, it went to Gov. Jeff Colyer, who immediately touted his “A” rating from the gun rights group ahead of the state’s Aug. 7 primary.

But Kobach pointed to his own “A” rating from the NRA and announced his endorsement by Gun Owners of America, which describes itself as a “no-compromise” gun-rights group.

Gun-rights advocates are a key constituency for Republicans in Kansas, which has loosened gun laws over the past decade so that no state permit is required for adults 21 and older to carry concealed weapons. The Republican candidates’ rhetoric contrasts sharply with Democratic candidates’ embrace of gun-control policies backed by their party’s liberal base, even if they’ve favored gun-rights measures in the past.

“The Second Amendment is the load-bearing wall of the Constitution,” Colyer said in a statement expressing pride at his NRA endorsement. “It must be protected or the whole institution will come crumbling down.”

Kobach has relished critics’ consternation over the jeep he uses in parades with a replica machine gun. The vehicle also is painted with a U.S. flag design.

“The right of law-abiding citizens to protect their families is non-negotiable,” Kobach said in a statement. “I will never back down in defense of those rights.”

David Kopel, an adjunct law professor at Denver University, said Gun Owners of America is more “pure ideologically” and less willing to accept legislative compromises to make incremental progress in broadening gun rights. He said it’s possible for a candidate with a good NRA grade to have a significantly lower grade with the other group.

But, Kopel, also the research director for a free-market think tank, said a candidate endorsed by either group is “probably good on gun issues.”

Colyer is battling to win a full, four-year term after being elevated from lieutenant governor to governor in January, when ex-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to take an ambassador’s post. Kobach is a serious threat to unseat him in a crowded Republican field.

The governor has been lining up endorsements, including on Monday from conservative Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, one of the nation’s most prominent GOP governors.

Among other things, the NRA letter cited Colyer’s support for granting state permits to carry concealed guns at age 18.

“His brand of effective conservative leadership matches up very well against the challengers and people see that he can get things done,” said Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr.

Kobach has a solid base on the political right after more than a decade of advocating tough policies against illegal immigration and strict voter identification laws. He dismissed the NRA’s endorsement of Colyer as “incumbent protection.”

Kobach’s campaign released its own letter Monday from the NRA’s PAC that confirmed his “A” rating with the group without giving him a formal endorsement. Kobach noted that he helped draft a 2013 state law declaring that the federal government has no power to regulate guns made, sold and kept only in Kansas.

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