Kris Kobach has emerged as the outright favorite to win the GOP nomination in Tuesday’s Kansas gubernatorial primary after winning an endorsement via Twitter from President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE.
Trump’s tweet calling Kobach a “fantastic guy” came just hours before the polls open, and represents the first time the president has endorsed a candidate running against a Republican incumbent in a primary.
The unlucky incumbent is Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), a former surgeon with years of experience in the state legislature, and a far more traditional candidate than Kobach has been.
Trump’s tweet is one that Republicans in the state had hoped to avoid. Many fear Kobach could be a weak general election candidate, and they had hoped to hold him off in the primary.
“If Kobach’s the nominee, then Republicans are in a bind,” one top national Republican told The Hill, seeking anonymity to avoid being seen opposing Trump’s choice.
The president is on a big winning streak in GOP primaries, taking victories recently in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama and further putting his stamp on the Republican Party.
Two recent polls conducted by Republican-leaning pollsters show Kobach leading Colyer by margins of 7 and 9 points; a third, conducted by Remington Research Group, put Colyer and Kobach in a tie for first, at 32 percent each.
A third candidate, former state Sen. Jim Barnett (R), running toward the middle, lags at just over 10 percent in each survey.
Colyer may have the trappings of office, but he lacks the traditional advantage that an incumbent might enjoy. He did not win election to the top job in his own right; instead, elected lieutenant governor, he took over the governorship when his predecessor, Sam Brownback, left to take an ambassadorship in the Trump administration.
And Brownback left Colyer with baggage. The former senator exited his office with dismal approval ratings, criticized by even Republicans for tax cuts that left the state’s schools grossly underfunded.
Despite Kansas’s deep-red hue, Democrats have won the governorship reliably in recent years. Dating back to 1968, Democrats have won five of the last 10 gubernatorial elections.
Republicans in Kansas and nationally believe Kobach could be vulnerable in November, though the dynamics of the race favor Republicans: Kansas is a deeply conservative state that gave Trump its electoral votes by a 20-point margin in 2016.
Further complicating matters for Democrats is businessman Greg Orman, who ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2014 as an independent. Orman is running again as an independent, likely splitting whatever anti-Kobach sentiment might exist within the electorate.
Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer (D), state Sen. Laura Kelly (D) and former Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty (D) are battling for the Democratic nomination.
Kobach was known for his bluster long before Trump rode Republican enthusiasm for his blunt, blow-it-up style to the party’s presidential nomination and then the White House.
The secretary of state has the resume of a Supreme Court justice, with degrees from Harvard and Yale and a Ph.D. from Oxford. He’s also got the bombastic personality of a right-wing radio host.
That style has dominated his time in office, from his quixotic crusade to find an unproven wave of illegal votes cast during the 2016 presidential election to his appearance at a local parade in a Jeep mounted with a machine gun.
Colyer has used Kobach’s penchant for bombast, and his recent dismal performance defending a state voter identification law before a federal judge, against his chief rival.
“While I am conservative, I know how to get things done,” Colyer told The Hill in an interview earlier this year. “My style is very straightforward. We work with people, we listen to them, and you serve. It’s not about me, it’s about people.”
Kansas Republicans have long chosen conservative nominees, albeit ones who come across as calmer presences. But that appears to have changed in recent years: The state that once sent Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum to the Senate also elected Brownback, a fiery conservative during his years in Washington and Topeka.