Laura Kelly wins Democratic primary for Kansas governor; GOP race too close to call
photo by: Peter Hancock
Story updated 8:30 a.m. Aug. 8
TOPEKA — State Sen. Laura Kelly won the Democratic primary for Kansas governor on Tuesday, but it could take until Friday at the earliest before anyone knows who won the Republican primary.
Just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, the GOP primary for governor was still too close to call, even with all the state’s precincts reporting. Secretary of State Kris Kobach was leading incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer by a mere 191 votes out of 311,009 votes cast — a margin of 0.06 percent.
The final count had been delayed due to technical issues related to new voting systems in Johnson County, where votes were not tallied and posted on public websites until early Wednesday morning.
The narrow margin means the race could come down to provisional ballots that haven’t been counted yet, plus mail-in advance ballots which, under a new Kansas law enacted in 2017, can still be received as late as the third business day after the election, as long as the envelopes are postmarked before the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Even then, if the margin remains as razor-thin as it is, the trailing candidate has a right under Kansas law to request a hand recount, which would take additional days.
In her victory speech Tuesday night, Kelly said it didn’t matter to her which of the two Republicans ends up being the nominee because either way, she will be running against the legacy of former Gov. Sam Brownback.
“Jeff Colyer was Sam Brownback’s second in command, his lieutenant, his right-hand man, his chief enabler and his number-one cheerleader,” Kelly told a crowd of supporters who had gathered at a downtown Topeka hotel. “And Kris Kobach, he’s Sam Brownback on steroids.”
Kelly also called for Democrats to unify behind her campaign while extending an olive branch to her rivals in the Democratic primary — former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who ended up with about 20 percent of the vote, and former state representative and former Kansas Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty, who finished third with 18 percent of the vote.
Kelly also acknowledged that there will be a third factor in the November general election — independent candidate Greg Orman, a Johnson County businessman who filed by petition on Monday to get his name on the ballot.
Orman ran a close race in 2014 against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas. But that was a race in which no Democrat was on the ballot, and many political experts say his presence in the governor’s race will only take votes away from Democrats.
“It’s hard to say exactly why Greg Orman is running for governor, but Kansans are right to be skeptical,” Kelly said Tuesday night. “He has not shown that he has the public’s best interests at heart.”
While Kelly was celebrating, though, Kobach and Colyer were sweating out the night, watching a race that was far closer than either had expected.
That was especially true for Kobach, who had been touting internal polls showing himself with a 9-percentage point lead over Colyer the weekend before the election. And then on Monday, he got the official endorsement of President Donald Trump.
Another poll, though, had shown Colyer with a slim 2-point lead, which was within the survey’s margin of error.
Asked Tuesday night if he was surprised that Trump’s endorsement hadn’t carried more weight than it did, Kobach said it was hard to gauge the actual impact.
“It’s really hard to tell that, too, because you don’t know what the vote would have been without it,” he said.