Here’s who’s snarfing up more money than Kobach in Kansas governor’s race

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

Campaign reports filed this week show a bunched field breaking from the starting gate in the Kansas race for governor.

Some handicappers’ favorites — notably Secretary of State Kris Kobach — trail at the rear of the pack. Still, only a few of the dozen candidates thought to hold potentially winning pedigrees appear in danger of fading fast.

Combined, nearly $6 million poured into the race before the state even rang in 2018 — or more than twice where fundraising stood at this point in the state’s last race for governor. The flood of money shows brisk betting on a contest likely to see competitive Republican and Democratic primaries — even as an independent candidate with heavy backing waits to take on the winners.

Crowded and competitive GOP field

The top seven Republican candidates raised more than $4.7 million, roughly half from loans that several made to their campaigns.

Kobach, the perceived front-runner, pulled in just under $355,000. That ranked sixth among the contenders. It led only the roughly $218,000 rounded up by Ed O’Malley, a former Kansas House member who took a leave from his post as CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center to campaign.

A conservative with high name recognition and two statewide election wins, Kobach doesn’t need as much early money as lesser-known candidates, said University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller.

“That being said, the headline today is going to be ‘Kobach underperforms expectations,’” Miller said. “That’s not good short-term, but it is only January.”

For O’Malley, Miller said, “it’s hard to find any silver lining” in his last-place finish. What’s more, he trails the other moderate Republican in the race by $350,000. That rival, Topeka doctor and former state senator Jim Barnett, is largely self-funding his campaign.

Miller regularly scours the reports and said Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former Kansas Rep. Mark Hutton posted stronger-than-expected fundraising.

“They both stand out,” he said.

Selzer logged more than $713,000, bolstered by $285,000 in personal contributions. Hutton, the founder of a Wichita-based construction company, donated $200,000 to raise his total to about $582,000.

The $632,000 raised by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer ranked him among the top three in the Republican field, trailing only candidates who made substantial contributions to their own campaigns. In absolute terms, Colyer raised more money than any of the other candidates.

Wichita oilman Wink Hartman’s $1.8 million in contributions topped the Republican field, though $1.65 million of that came from his personal fortune.

Hartman, who lost a 2010 bid for Congress in the district that includes Wichita, said he intended to largely self-fund his campaign so that he wouldn’t be beholden to special interests.

“When we win this race, we’ll bring conservative business solutions to the Statehouse, not a list of policies sold to the highest bidder,” he said in a media release.

Separation in the Democratic field

Former Kansas Rep. Josh Svaty led the four contenders for the Democratic nomination with nearly $191,000.

But state Sen. Laura Kelly generated the most buzz by raising $155,000 between Dec. 15, when she announced her candidacy, and the Dec. 31 end of the reporting period.

“That’s pretty impressive,” Miller said, noting that the end of the year is one of the hardest times for candidates to raise money.

Kelly’s report includes contributions from former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and several of her supporters. That may suggest that at least some party leaders lacked confidence in Svaty, House Minority Leader Jim Ward and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.

The contribution numbers also suggest that, Miller said. Ward drew less than $91,000 and Brewer pulled in about $45,000.

In an interview, Ward insisted he’ll stay in the race until the August primary.

“It’s still wide open,” he said. “That’s the message that I think the reports tell you.”

Greg Orman, who lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 2014, is running as an independent in the governor’s race. He reported $453,000. Yet unlike the rest of the field, he can save much of his cash for the fall general election.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to

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Kelly jumps into Kansas governor’s race

Sen. Laura Kelly (File photo, Kansas News Service)

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

A crowded field of candidates running for governor in Kansas gained its first woman Friday with the entry of state Sen. Laura Kelly.

Kelly, 67, who has represented a Topeka district in the Kansas Senate since 2005, has been an outspoken critic of Gov. Sam Brownback. As the top Democrat on the Senate’s budget-writing committee, Kelly has been particularly critical of the income tax cuts that Brownback said would revitalize the Kansas economy, which instead sent state revenues plummeting and triggered years of budget instability.

“I have watched the Brownback folks totally mismanage the state for the last seven years, and I can’t stay on the sidelines and let Brownback-like folks lead for the next four years,” Kelly said, referencing some candidates in the Republican field, which includes conservatives Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The 2017 Legislature repealed most of the Brownback tax cuts. But Kobach, whom many view as the front-runner for the GOP nomination, has said he would attempt to reinstate them if elected.

As the top Democrat on the joint legislative committee that oversees KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, Kelly recently announced her opposition to a Brownback administration plan to renew it for another five years. Doing so would unfairly saddle the next governor with a program that continues to generate complaints from providers and patients about increased red tape and reductions in services, she said.

“We have lots and lots of KanCare recipients or their guardians coming to us with concerns about services that they need but are not getting,” she said.

Kelly is the fourth candidate to enter the race for the Democratic nomination, joining House Minority Leader Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former state Rep. Josh Svaty.

Svaty, who also headed the Kansas Department of Agriculture under former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, welcomed Kelly to the race but said he would be a better statewide candidate.

“This doesn’t change the ultimate objective for Kansas Democrats, which is to identify the best nominee who can defeat Kris Kobach next November,” Svaty said in a prepared statement issued as the news of Kelly’s candidacy was breaking. “I am the only Democrat that can win votes in every corner of this state.”

Weighing in on Twitter, University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller said Svaty’s appeal in rural areas of the state could help him in the Democratic primary but that Kelly is potentially the stronger general election candidate. Though, he said the recent entry of independent Greg Orman lessens the chance that any Democrat could win.

In addition to Kobach and Colyer, the crowded field for the GOP nomination includes former Kansas House members Ed O’Malley and Mark Hutton, former state Sen. Jim Barnett, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and Wichita businessman Wink Hartman.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to

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Davis looks to build on 2014 showing for win in Congressional 2nd District

Paul Davis, the former Democratic leader in the Kansas House, is running for the 2nd District Congressional seat in Kansas. In the 2014 governor’s race, Davis carried the district by six points over Gov. Sam Brownback. (File photo, Kansas News Service)

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

Political forecasters attempting to gauge the chances for a power shift in Congress are watching several key 2018 races across the country, including two in Kansas.

In the 3rd District (which includes Wyandotte and Johnson counties), several Democrats are competing for the right to challenge four-term Republican Kevin Yoder, and in the 2nd District, a former Democratic candidate for governor hopes to claim an open seat.

Democrats challenging Yoder have the advantage of running in a district that Hillary Clinton carried over President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, albeit by a single percentage point.

Paul Davis, the former Democratic leader in the Kansas House, has what might prove to be a bigger advantage in the 2nd District, which covers roughly the eastern third of the state. He carried it by six points in his unsuccessful 2014 bid to unseat Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

That strong showing and the fact that at the end of the first reporting period Davis had raised more campaign cash than his Republican rivals combined suggests that he is capable of winning the seat, said University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller.

“Clearly Paul Davis showed that he could appeal to some of those right-leaning voters in 2014,” Miller said. “His challenge is to replicate that and really get back that center-to-right support that can carry him over.”

Davis, a partner in a Lawrence law firm, is hopeful but cautious.

“Obviously I wouldn’t be in the race if I didn’t believe we had a good opportunity to win,” Davis said. “I also know that I’m a Democrat in Kansas and things are never easy.”

If Davis can get by Kelly Standley, a small-business owner from St. Paul, in the primary, he plans to court independent and moderate Republican voters by pledging to cross the aisle to forge compromise solutions on health care, taxes, the environment and a host of other key issues.

“You know, we’ve got plenty of people on both sides of the aisle in Washington that are just sitting on the end of the political spectrum, just providing more and more noise,” Davis said. “What we need right now are people who are going to be Kansans and Americans first and not Democrats and Republicans.”

GOP field lacks big names

When Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins decided not to run for a sixth term, she expected that several high-profile Republicans would jump into the race to succeed her.

That didn’t happen.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach opted to run for governor instead. Attorney General Derek Schmidt considered a run but decided instead to seek re-election.

State Sen. Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth announced his bid for the GOP nomination in the 2nd District in July. (File photo, Kansas News Service)

To ensure that the GOP fielded its best candidate, state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, from Leavenworth, was willing to defer to any number of higher-profile Republicans. But when none stepped forward he jumped into the 2nd District race, saying it was essential for Republicans to hang on to the seat to help thwart an attempt by Democrats to gain control of the U.S. House.

“Bernie and Hillary’s Democrats are desperate to retake Congress and resume their death march to socialism,” Fitzgerald said at his July campaign launch. “We cannot let that happen.”

Fitzgerald said if elected he would help President Donald Trump further his agenda for tax cuts, tougher border security and the rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations.

“The puddles in your backyard are no longer ‘waters of the United States’ to be regulated by the federal government,” he said, before also praising Trump’s decision to withdraw from what he called “the international climate scam.”

Five now in GOP field

Similarly, state Sen. Caryn Tyson, from Parker, highlighted her support for the Trump agenda when she joined the race in August.

“We need to embrace the president’s call to repeal and replace Obamacare, secure our borders and pass comprehensive tax reform to cut taxes,” Tyson said in her campaign announcement.

Republican state Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker highlighted her support for President Donald Trump’s agenda when she joined the 2nd District race in August. (File photo, Kansas News Service)

In a recent interview, Tyson, who manages a Linn County ranch with her husband, described herself as a “reasonable conservative,” which she defined as someone willing to engage in debate and compromise to get things done.

As she campaigns, Tyson said she has not detected any buyer’s remorse from 2nd District voters who supported Trump.

“A majority of people, I think, tend to take the attitude that they wish he wouldn’t tweet so much,” she said. “But they agree with the agenda that he campaigned on.”

State Rep. Kevin Jones, a former Green Beret from Wellsville, Basehor City Councilman Vernon Fields and Topekan Matt Bevens round out the GOP field.

Former Kansas Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave recently withdrew from the race amid reports that Brownback fired him for, among other things, awarding state contracts to friends and business associates.

Race seen as competitive

Davis’ 2014 performance and his early fundraising prowess have put the 2nd District race on various watch lists. The seat is one of several that prognosticators believe Democrats could flip if there is a substantial midterm backlash against Trump.

Recently, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a website run by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, adjusted its prediction on the Kansas 2nd District race, moving it from the “likely Republican” column to “Republican leaning.”

It’s a slight change, but one that signals that campaign watchers expect the race to be competitive, said KU’s Miller.

“I don’t think that either side has a clear leg up,” Miller said. “The strengths of Paul Davis versus the Republican tilt of the district — we don’t really know how that will come out.”

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to

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