Kansas Governor Laura Kelly (R) embarks on a political knife battle next year as Republicans state and nationwide seek to make her seat a prime midterm opportunity .
Kelly caught lightning in a bottle to win her first term in 2018, a good year for Democrats against a deeply flawed GOP opponent to replace a Republican governor with basement approval ratings. But Republicans say they expect ruby-red Kansas to return to form next year, and even Democrats admit the stars are unlikely to line up for Kelly a second time as well.
“Of course she’s vulnerable, she’s a Democrat in Kansas,” said Burdett Loomis, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas who is in touch with the best Democrats in the state. “By definition, it’s no better than 50-50. Maybe you could see her favored a bit if things go really well, but you could also see her reduced to almost any Republican who isn’t Kris Kobach.
Kelly, a 14-year former state senator, won her 2018 race by beating former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (right), a nationally polarizing figure who has focused her campaign on the fight against immigration and electoral fraud and embracing then-President TrumpDonald Trump, the business leader who pushed the theory out of Italy, falsely claimed the VA mansion was his home: report centrists gaining a foothold in infrastructure talks; Cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin VA meeting set to cover gender-affirming surgery through departmental health care.
The Kansas Democrat is not expected to be so lucky in 2022. She will likely face former Governor Jeff Colyer (R) or Kansas Secretary of State Derek Schmidt (R), neither of whom has as much baggage as Kobach. .
While Kelly’s allies maintain she has a path to a second term, Republicans are bent on making her first term her last now that she doesn’t have such an easy foil and faces an election cycle which should favor the GOP.
“I think she’s incredibly vulnerable as a sitting governor right now,” said Robert Blizzard, a GOP pollster who worked on Kansas Sen. Roger marshallRoger W. Marshall Republicans toast Biden’s public lands agency choice over finances, Senate passes resolution urging investigation into origins of COVID-19 Republicans seek justification amid reemergence of the Wuhan laboratory theory PLUS‘s (R) 2020 campaign. “She’s one of the few Democratic governors in a red state, and in fact, I can’t even think of another Democratic governor coming out as red from a state at all, to be honest with you.”
Kansas’ deep conservative tilt was fully visible in 2020 when Trump beat now –President BidenJoe Biden 64% of Iowans say it’s ‘time for someone else’ to take Grassley’s Senate seat of about 15 points in the state. Marshall also beat State Senator Barbara Bollier (D) in a race for an open Senate seat by more than 11 points, even after Bollier raised about four times as much money as her Republican opponent.
Adding to the state’s already red slant is the fact that the national environment should favor the GOP.
The White House party has traditionally suffered major setbacks in a new administration’s first term, making next year’s atmosphere a 180-degree turn from whoever helped Kelly take power. .
Republicans are confident that a mid-term GOP wave will be more than enough to sink Kelly, especially given his narrow 2018 victory. On top of that, as the governor’s mansion has flipped between parties, no Democrat has won the governor’s mansion in a same party administration since 1978.
“I’m just emphasizing how incredible it was for Laura Kelly to have this opponent,” veteran Kansas GOP quarterback David Kensinger said, referring to Kobach. “And with all that, and a good national environment for Democrats, she won by 5 points.”
“If you look at the history of the midterm elections in the United States, in this century the last four presidential midterm elections have been ripple elections,” he added. “So they can discuss whatever they like. Overall, the empirical evidence does not support this argument.
Beyond the structural headwinds Kelly faces, she is also expected to face a message from Republicans seeking to make her No.1 public enemy in the state.
Kelly has engaged in a series of battles with Republican lawmakers over a range of issues, including abortion and his executive branch of ordering schools and businesses to close during the pandemic. She also vetoed several GOP messaging bills, including a ban on transgender sports and voting restrictions.
The legislature overturned its vote on the bill but was unable to do so on the ban on transgender sports.
Colyer planned attacks on Kelly on a list of problems, including portraying her as the spark for an increase in abortions in Kansas. He also said he intended to hammer her particularly hard on decisions to shut down businesses and schools during the pandemic.
“People were upset about it. And so there is definitely going to be a lingering hangover from shutdowns across the state, ”he told The Hill. “People are upset, but they also want to move on.”
Despite the obstacles in his way, Democrats who spoke to The Hill insisted that Kelly maintains the path to re-election by using a textbook highlighting his role as manager during a difficult time in the state.
Kelly’s campaign did not respond to requests for an interview with the governor, but Democrats suggested that his re-election message could focus on his support for the expansion of Medicaid, which has worked well in Kansas, and its managing the economy during the coronavirus as employment climbs above pre-pandemic levels.
“It will be a bit of an uphill battle. But I think his record is solid. She has done our state remarkably well through this pandemic. Economically, the state is doing pretty well, ”said Vicki Hiatt, president of the Kansas Democratic Party. “So if people pay attention to the performance she has put in there is no way to criticize her work.”
Kelly is expected to attempt to link the GOP nominee to former Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who stepped down in 2018 to join the Trump administration after his approval rating rose to dismal levels due to a controversial tax reduction program.
Democrats have said that despite leaving office four years before midterm, the former governor remains toxic in the state and could weigh on either Colyer, Brownback’s lieutenant governor, or Schmidt, who was his attorney general.
“We have seen a tremendous amount of damage done during the Brownback years. Now that we see this recovering, it will be helpful to just remind people that these policies, ”Hiatt said.
Colyer eliminated those attack lines, claiming the broadside would fall on deaf ears.
“Some people say it’s a bit of a problem, but people moved on and it didn’t work the last time around,” he said, referring to the Republican successes in the races of 2020. “They are going to try to tie Derek or tie me to Sam. That’s fine. But I have a record that is pretty solid, and I would compare my personal best. “
Other Republicans agreed that attacks on Colyer or Schmidt would not succeed and that while the race would still be competitive, the GOP would have an advantage in avoiding any major slippage.
“Laura Kelly needs Republicans to make mistakes to win. It’s not enough to say that if she has the best campaign she can win, she said. “No, she could run the best campaign she’s capable of and still lose.”
Democrats said a mistake they hoped for was a messy primary between Colyer and Schmidt. But Kensinger said he’s not too worried about the nominating competition getting ugly enough to bloody the ultimate nominee.
“It’s always possible,” he said. “It doesn’t stop me from sleeping at night.”