Exactly a week after an election that produced one of the closest races in Kansas history, incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded the Republican gubernatorial primary to Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and an anti-immigration hard-liner who has sought to align himself as closely as possible with President Donald Trump and his administration.
Colyer conceded Tuesday night, hours after a tally of provisional ballots in Johnson County, the state’s largest county, failed to close the gap between him and Kobach. Instead, the additional votes swung in his opponent’s favor — Colyer picked up an extra 301 votes, while Kobach added 325 — even though the governor had won his home county overall.
“I’ve just had a conversation with [Kobach] and I congratulated him on his success and I repeated my determination to keep this seat in Republican hands,” Colyer said Tuesday, with his family by his side, sounding emotional at times. “The numbers are just not there unless we were to go to extraordinary measures.”
Colyer said his campaign would not challenge the results in court or ask for a recount. He emphasized his desire to keep the office in Republican hands.
“Kansas is too important,” he said.
Kobach will face the projected Democratic nominee, state Sen. Laura Kelly, and independent candidate Greg Orman. Kelly had a strong showing last week, earning more than 50 percent of the vote in the state’s first contested Democratic primary since 1998.
Since the 1960s, Kansas voters have not elected consecutive Democrats or Republicans to the governor’s office. This year, the GOP in Kansas must overcome the additional obstacle of convincing voters that conservative policies can still succeed in the state after then-Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, enacted steep tax cuts that left the state’s economy, infrastructure funding and education systems reeling.
Colyer, a 58-year-old surgeon and Brownback’s former lieutenant governor, assumed the office in January after Brownback resigned to join the Trump administration. Colyer’s concession came after Kobach spoke to reporters earlier in the evening about the additional votes trending in his favor, all but declaring victory.
Kobach’s narrow win is vindication for Trump himself, who had injected himself into the tight primary less than 24 hours before polls opened, tweeting Aug. 6 his “full & total Endorsement!” of Kobach, whom he touted as “Strong on Crime, Border & Military.” In doing so, the president gambled his reputation as a kingmaker — and came out on top yet again.
Trump’s endorsement reportedly came against the wishes of some Republican insiders who had hoped the president would stay out of the race. Nevertheless, Trump — who has been known to demand and reward loyalty — waded in at the last minute in support of Kobach, who has long played up his ties to the president and his family.
Kobach, 52, told the Kansas City Star on Tuesday that the last-minute endorsement from Trump was “absolutely crucial” to putting him over the edge in a seven-way Republican primary.
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