Kobach wins GOP nomination for attorney general; Republican primary for treasurer very close

photo by: Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector

Attorney Kris Kobach, a former secretary of state, prevailed in a three-candidate race to win the Republican Party’s nomination for Kansas attorney general in Tuesday’s primary. He defeated state Sen. Kellie Warren and former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi.

TOPEKA — Despite the influence of Republican powerbrokers, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach defeated Sen. Kellie Warren and former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi on Tuesday to capture the party’s nomination for attorney general.

Kobach, a resident of Lecompton, served two terms as secretary of state but then lost in the 2018 race for governor and his 2020 bid for U.S. Senate. But he rebounded Tuesday in the open primary for attorney general on the strength of his significant name recognition and the loyalty of his conservative supporters.

During the primary, Warren repeatedly asserted that Kobach was a risky choice because he had won two GOP primaries in the past only to lose in the general election. Warren picked up endorsements from a number of prominent organizations and Republican politicians in the run-up to the election — the Kansas chamber of commerce, Kansans for Life, Kansas State Rifle Association, Kansas Livestock Association, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall. And in 2021, the chamber of commerce president said he was concerned Kobach was incapable of effectively representing Kansas businesses and individuals in court.

“The establishment was against me from the moment I got in the race,” Kobach said. “Victory means I’ll be able to move forward with my plan to sue Joe Biden on multiple issues, when I think he’s violated the constitution or federal statute.”

Warren, of Leawood, congratulated Kobach and thanked the people who devoted time, talent and money to her campaign.

“We’ve made many great friends in this campaign and I’ve been honored to have the support of people across all walks of life,” she said.

The third wheel in the Republican primary campaign for attorney general was Tony Mattivi, a former federal prosecutor from Topeka who received 20% of the primary vote. In an election-day appeal, Mattivi said he was the only GOP candidate in the race who wouldn’t “embarrass our state” as attorney general.

Some on social media were quick to blame Mattivi for Warren’s second-place finish because a fraction of Mattivi’s 91,400 votes would have made a difference when added to Warren’s 175,555-vote total. Unofficial results indicated that Kobach brought in 195,701 votes. Put another way, Kobach netted 42% to Warren’s 38%.

Chris Mann, a Lawrence attorney and former law enforcement officer, is the Democratic nominee for attorney general. He said Kobach was getting ahead of himself.

“Kansans will have a clear choice for attorney general this fall, between a politician and a public servant,” Mann said. “The stakes are too high to entrust the top law enforcement office in Kansas to a politician. Violent crime has been on the rise for a decade, Kansans are being preyed upon by corporations and prescription drug companies, and at every turn politics threatens to distract and disrupt the priorities of the attorney general.”

The job of attorney general is up for grabs because Derek Schmidt, the Republican currently occupying that job, won the GOP nomination for governor. He will compete against Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, independent candidate Dennis Pyle and Libertarian Seth Cordell in November.

Kelly won her Democratic primary race against Richard Karnowski with 94% of the vote — she got 259,306 votes, and Karnowski got a mere 17,077 votes. In his primary, Schmidt received a greater number of votes than Kelly but had a smaller percentage of the overall GOP ballots cast. Schmidt’s vote total was 363,546, or 81% of the total votes, compared to challenger Arlyn Briggs’ 87,431 votes or 19%. During the campaign, Briggs gained attention for being arrested on a threat charge.

Other races in the state

Republicans Steven Johnson and Caryn Tyson entered the GOP campaign for state treasurer with similar backgrounds. He’s a farmer from Assaria in central Kansas and she’s a farmer from Parker near the Missouri border.

Both served since 2011 in the Legislature, and both had a prominent role in development of state tax policy. A dispute about their work and votes on tax issues mushroomed in final days of an otherwise sleepy campaign that was periodically punctuated by Johnson’s colorful campaign ads.

When votes were tallied after midnight, they both had 50% of 426,669 Republican primary votes cast. More precisely, Johnson had 213,660 to Tyson’s 212,882 — a gap of less than 800. But there remain uncounted votes, including provisional and mail-in ballots.

The eventual winner of that primary will face Democratic state Treasurer Lynn Rogers, who was appointed to the job in 2020 by Gov. Kelly.

Not even Secretary of State Scott Schwab, the state’s top election official, anticipated heavy turnout in the primary despite keen voter interest in the proposed constitutional amendment on abortion.

Schwab previously estimated that 36%, or 644,000, of the state’s 1.9 million registered voters would participate in the primary. Instead, 47%, or 908,000, voters showed up.

Schwab won his own race on Tuesday night in his bid for a second term as secretary of state. He survived a challenge from Mike Brown, a former Johnson County Commission member.

The unofficial results released from Schwab’s office showed the incumbent with 239,306 votes, or 55%; Brown had 194,061 votes, or 45%.

Rarely do primary challengers come within striking distance of a Republican incumbent in Kansas. But Brown’s campaign benefitted from heavy spending by the Election Integrity PAC. Schwab has insisted that Kansas’ elections are free and fair, but the PAC poured mailers into Kansas households accusing Schwab of failing to secure elections in Kansas. The political action committee accused Schwab of dismissing President Donald Trump’s claims about mail-in ballots and rejecting a baseless theory that widespread voter fraud influenced the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Brown said that if he were elected, he would require a photo identification card to vote by mail, ban the use of “unsecure” ballot drop boxes, verify the accuracy of voter registration lists and “eliminate voter fraud and mismanagement of our elections.”

In other races around the state, Mark Holland of Kansas City, Kansas, won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. He emerged from a six-person Democratic primary with 38% of the vote. In November, he will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who won the Republican primary with 81% of the vote.

Meanwhile, two of three Republican members of the Kansas State Board of Education were defeated by primary challengers.

Garden City incumbent board member Jean Clifford lost the District 5 primary by 5,000 votes to Hays resident Cathy Hopkins, who had previously staged an unsuccessful campaign for Hays’ school board. In the District 7 primary, incumbent Ben Jones of Sterling lost by 9,000 votes to Dennis Hershberger, a Hutchinson resident and chairman of the Reno County Republican Party.

Board of Education member Jim Porter, of Fredonia, won by more than 11,000 votes against challenger Luke Aichele, a McPherson barber who defied COVID-19 protocols.

— Tim Carpenter reports for Kansas Reflector.

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