Kansas GOP endorsement flurry emphasizes symbiotic relationship between Schmidt, Kobach

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Democrats assert Republican expression of unity about Pyle’s independent bid

TOPEKA — Republican Roger Marshall’s campaign advertisement for U.S. Senate relied on video of a car exploding in a brilliant fireball to provide visual context to claims rival Kris Kobach failed as chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and during two terms as secretary of state.

“Everything Kris Kobach touches seems to go up in flames,” Marshall’s 2020 commercial said. “Kris Kobach can’t win and he shouldn’t.”

Kobach came in a distant second to Marshall in that 11-candidate GOP primary field. Marshall went on to win the general election and took a place among conservative U.S. senators in Washington, D.C. He’s not on the November 2022 ballot, but completed an about-face by urging his supporters to get behind Kobach’s campaign for attorney general.

In Marshall’s eyes, Kobach transitioned from a person unworthy of GOP votes for U.S. Senate to the best option for Republicans selecting the state’s most powerful law enforcement officer.

“We can’t afford a weak AG who bows to Joe Biden and his out-of-control policies,” Marshall said in the endorsement of Kobach. “Republicans won’t be pushed around. That’s why I’m joining Republicans across Kansas and uniting to support Kobach.”

Scratch your back

In turn, Kobach put his shoulder behind the Republican gubernatorial campaign of Derek Schmidt, who cruised to the GOP nomination to discover his quest to defeat Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly would be complicated by presidence on the ballot of independent Dennis Pyle.

Pyle, a state senator from Hiawatha, has campaigned for governor by repeatedly applying the liberal label to Schmidt and Kelly.

To counter Pyle, Schmidt’s campaign tapped into Kobach’s base of support and those with an affinity for former President Donald Trump.

“I support Derek Schmidt for governor of Kansas,” Kobach said. “We must elected a Republican to lead our state who will sign conservative legislation into law and I encourage every Kansan who values faith, family, freedom and the rule of law to vote for Derek Schmidt. A vote for anyone else is a effectively a vote for four more years of Laura Kelly.”

Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who was preparing for a contentious gubernatorial primary against Schmidt until health problems forced his withdrawal in 2021, also endorsed Kobach. Tony Mattivi, a former federal prosecutor who came in third in the GOP primary for attorney general, did likewise.

Schmidt returned the favor on social media by collectively endorsing every Kansas Republican running for statewide and federal office. Together, he said, the group would “protect our way of life” and stand “against overreach” by President Joe Biden and Kelly.

‘Cheap, low quality’

Patrick Miller, professor of political science at University of Kansas, said there was nothing suprising about a cluster of Republicans endorsing each other after dust settled from the primary. In Schmidt’s case, Miller said, the move took on urgency because of a desire to thwart Pyle’s influence among die-hard conservatives.

“Pyle is not a household name,” Miller said. “He’s thoroughly conservative. He’s bombastic. He doesn’t mind pointing his finger at his own party. If you’re Derek Schmidt, you want to shut down a firebrand conservative.”

Miller said it was difficult to determine where Schmidt, Kelly and Pyle stood with voters. So far, he said, evidence the governor’s race would be close came from “cheap and low quality” surveys with flaws in methodology.

Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political science professor, said the flurry of endorsements among Republicans would be met with more guilt-by-association attacks.

“Republicans are going to try to attack Laura Kelly with (national figures) Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “The twist is the Democratic side will associate Schmidt with Kansas figures, particularly Kris Kobach and Sam Brownback.”

Democrats not impressed

In turn, the Kansas Democratic Party characterized Schmidt’s endorsement of Kobach as “unenthusiastic.” The endorsement exchange by Kobach and Schmidt emphasized how uncomfortable some Republicans feel about Pyle’s campaign for governor, said Emma O’Brien, spokesperson for the state Democratic Party.

“After over a year of trying to run from his track record of standing by politicians like Kris Kobach and Sam Brownback — and clearly desperate for any support within his own party he can get — Derek Schmidt’s new strategy is to embrace Kobach and his extreme and unpopular policies,” O’Brien said.

“This endorsement proves what we’ve known all along,” she said. “Kris Kobach and Derek Schmidt are one in the same. Voters will once again reject Kobach, and Schmidt, this November.”

She said more than 150 Republicans from across Kansas had endorsed Kelly’s reelection, including former Attorney General Robert Stephan, former Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger and former Kansas Senate President Steve Morris.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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