The Republican primary for Kansas governor remained too close to call Wednesday, with anti-illegal immigration hard-liner Kris Kobach, a staunch ally of President Trump, holding a lead of fewer than 200 votes over incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer as the final results remained to be tallied.
Kobach vowed to begin campaigning as the presumptive winner, even as he acknowledged that the results could change, while Colyer maintained that he would not bow out of the race.
As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who previously served as vice chairman of Trump’s now-disbanded voting integrity commission, had 126,257 votes to Colyer’s 126,066, with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
Those tallies could shift as provisional and mail-in ballots continue to trickle in, and the secretary of state’s office cautioned Wednesday morning that results remain unofficial.
Kansas law does not call for an automatic recount in close races. Candidates may request a recount, and the cost is borne by the candidate or the counties, depending on the result.
Kobach acknowledged the results of the race could change as provisional ballots were counted but said he would begin campaigning immediately as if he was the winner.
“We have only three months [until the general election] and if we spend a week of that three months doing absolutely nothing, then we will have given our opponents a sizable lead in the footrace that we have,” Kobach said at a news conference Wednesday. “So it is imperative that we begin running . . . with the full knowledge that I may hand the baton off to Jeff.”
He said he had spoken with the White House on Wednesday morning and with Trump on Tuesday, although he declined to reveal the contents of his conversations.
Colyer, meanwhile, was “certainly not planning to concede,” campaign spokesman Kendall Marr said.
“Given the historically close margin of the current tabulation, the presence of thousands of as yet uncounted provisional ballots and the extraordinary problems with the count, particularly in Johnson County, this election remains too close to call,” the campaign said in a statement.
The election office in Johnson County, the state’s most-populous county, said Wednesday that issues with voting machines had caused a delay in the reporting of its results overnight. The office had earlier reported delays in tabulating ballots in part because of high voter turnout.
“We remain confident in the integrity of the votes cast and the accuracy of the vote tabulation process in Johnson County,” the office said in a statement.
The winner of the Republican primary will face the projected Democratic nominee, state Sen. Laura Kelly, and independent candidate Greg Orman in November.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Kobach acknowledged his dual role as partisan gubernatorial candidate and nonpartisan state elections official. He said if a recount were requested in the race, the votes would be tallied at the county level but that his office would act simply as a coordinating entity.
Kobach is not required by law to recuse himself from the recount process. Even so, some independent experts and Kobach critics have called on the secretary of state to recuse himself from the process entirely, arguing that his role as a candidate presents a conflict of interest. Kobach did not say Wednesday whether he planned to do so, maintaining that there are “multiple safeguards” in place to ensure the fairness of a potential recount.
The gubernatorial race is not the first time Kobach has faced an Election Day nail-biter: During his 2004 congressional bid, he eked out a 207-vote victory in the Republican primary before going down in defeat in the general election.
This year, the GOP in Kansas must overcome the additional obstacle of convincing voters that conservative policies can still succeed in Kansas after then-Gov. Sam Brownback (R) enacted steep tax cuts that left the state’s economy, infrastructure funding and education systems reeling.
Trump has loomed large over the race. With his frequent pledges to “Make Kansas Great Again,” Kobach has embraced both the president’s policies and his style.
The president had injected himself into the tight contest less than 24 hours before polls opened, tweeting Monday his “full & total Endorsement!” of Kobach, whom he touted as “Strong on Crime, Border & Military.”
Colyer, meanwhile, secured the endorsement last month of the state’s political giant, former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996. Dole reiterated his support Monday with a not-so-subtle message that underscored Kobach’s potential electoral challenge in November.
“Proud to support Jeff Colyer for Governor — our best choice to win tomorrow AND in the Fall,” Dole tweeted Monday afternoon. “He doesn’t just talk; he delivers.”