O’Malley enters GOP race for Kansas governor; Orman weighing independent bid; new entry in 2nd District

Former Rep. Ed O’Malley launched his bid for the Republican nomination for governor Tuesday, saying he wants to improve public education and modernize the state government workforce.

O’Malley, 41, a moderate Republican and former aide to Gov. Bill Graves, served in the Kansas House from 2003 to 2006 representing the 24th District in Johnson County. In 2007 he became the first president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, a think tank that emphasizes that leadership is an activity, not a position or role that a person plays. He has lived in Wichita since then.

In January, O’Malley announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at the governor’s race. Since then, he has traveled the state, conducted a number of public events and released several videos on his Facebook page that many people have likened to TED talks.

“My campaign will revolve around three big, bold ideas I will work day and night to deliver.” O’Malley said in a news release. “Number one, we will create the best public education system in the world to fuel our economy. Number two, we will transform government by creating the most innovative, efficient and creative workforce inside government to serve you. And number three, we’ll do all this with leadership that brings people together to solve problems.”

O’Malley launched his campaign Tuesday during a statewide tour that conspicuously did not include Topeka. The tour began in Kansas City, Kan., and was scheduled to continue to Overland Park, Manhattan and Wichita. The tour will stop Thursday in Beloit, Dodge City and Garden City.

Orman reportedly weighing independent bid

Johnson County businessman Greg Orman, who ran an unexpectedly strong race for the U.S. Senate against Republican Pat Roberts two years ago, is now said to be weighing an independent bid for governor, the Wichita Eagle reports.

If he does, that could greatly complicate next year’s governor’s race, turning it into a three-way contest that some think would make it easier for a conservative Republican like Secretary of State Kris Kobach or Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to win.

In 2014, Orman landed in the center of what turned out to be both a national and international political story as Republicans were struggling to take back control of the U.S. Senate while polls were showing Roberts in a surprisingly weak position at home in Kansas.

Roberts had been dogged by stories that he doesn’t actually live in Kansas, stories that were made even worse when Roberts quipped off the cuff that a supporter of his in Dodge City lets him sleep on a recliner whenever he’s in town.

Roberts survived a bruising primary against tea party challenger Milton Wolf, and it appeared he was heading into a three-way race against Orman and Democrat Chad Taylor, then the Shawnee County district attorney. In an unexpected move, however, Taylor pulled out of the race, under pressure from national Democrats, including Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who thought an independent would have a better chance of unseating Roberts, and thus possibly denying Republicans a majority.

It didn’t work out that way, however. The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, then led by fellow Kansan Jerry Moran, poured huge amounts of money into the race, as did a number of independent, third-party groups. In the end, the campaign shattered spending records in Kansas with more than $8 million being spent on Roberts’ behalf during the campaign, compared with $5.7 million for Orman.

National Republicans also brought in a massive get-out-the-vote machine to get GOP voters to the polls while Orman, running as an independent, had no such organization behind him. Roberts ended up winning the race, 53-43 percent, and many believe the massive push for Roberts also benefited Gov. Sam Brownback, who was in a tough re-election battle of his own that year.

In next year’s governor’s race, however, there is no chance that the Democratic candidate will bow out, which means that Orman and the eventual Democratic candidate would likely split the Democratic and independent vote, thus making it easier for the Republican nominee to win.

Three major Democratic candidates are currently in the race: House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita; former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer; and former Rep. and former Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty, of Ellsworth.

On the Republican side, besides Kobach and Colyer, the major candidates are O’Malley, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former Sen. Jim Barnett, former Rep. Mark Hutton and Wichita businessman Willis “Wink” Hartman.

Bevens, 25, enters 2nd District race

A 25-year-old Topeka man jumped into the 2nd District congressional race Tuesday.

Matt Bevens, a University of Kansas graduate with a degree in economics, calls himself a “traditional Republican” and said in a statement announcing his candidacy that “Congress is broken and it is time for a Republican Reset.”

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says a person must be at least 25 years of age to serve in the U.S. House.

Bevens joins a crowded list of Republicans in the 2nd District race. They include state Sens. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth, and Caryn Tyson, of Parker; Rep. Kevin Jones, of Wellsville; and Basehor city councilman Vernon Fields. Incumbent Rep. Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, is not running for re-election.

On the Democratic side, former Rep. Paul Davis, of Lawrence, is being challenged by Neosho County resident Kelly Standley.