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 a hard-liner on illegal immigration who has sought to align himself as closely as possible with President Trump and his administration.
Colyer conceded Tuesday night, hours after a tally of provisional ballots in Johnson County, the state’s largest, 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 would 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.
Kelly came out against Kobach after Colyer’s concession, saying, “The last thing we need is a Governor like Kris Kobach, who has pledged to bring back the same disastrous policies that created this mess.”
Since the 1960s, Kansas voters have not elected Democrats or Republicans to consecutive terms in the governor’s office. This year, the GOP in Kansas must convince voters that conservative policies can still succeed in the state after then-Gov. Sam Brownback (R) 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, took office in January after Brownback resigned to join the Trump administration. Colyer’s concession came after Kobach spoke to reporters earlier Tuesday evening about the additional votes trending in his favor and all but declared victory.
Kobach thanked Colyer and called him a “worthy opponent.”
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 giving him the edge in a seven-way Republican primary.