Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP

KS GOP gubernatorial primary: razor-thin results

August 08, 2018 - 1:09 pm

Immigration hardliner Kris Kobach led Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer by less than 200 votes Wednesday following the state's Republican primary election for governor, and it will be days before the race is settled.

But Kobach isn't waiting: He said Republicans can't afford to delay campaigning for the general election and he plans to will start immediately. Kobach acknowledged during a news conference that his lead may disappear when all votes are counted, but he said it's imperative that the party not wait — because Democrats won't.

The election is a test of whether President Donald Trump's endorsement of Kobach could help the secretary of state despite an aggressive, no-apologies brand of conservative that has alienated even some fellow Republicans.

Kobach is perhaps Trump's closest ally in Kansas: He advised the White House and served as vice chairman of a now-disbanded election fraud commission.

Colyer raised more campaign contributions, was endorsed by the National Rifle Association and has the backing of Kansas political legend, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole. Colyer became governor in January, succeeding Sam Brownback after the former governor was appointed by Trump to an ambassador's post.

The two candidates sent their supporters home early Wednesday from election night watch parties when results were slow from the state's most populous county, Johnson County in the Kansas City area, which has 23 percent of the state's registered voters. The county suffered problems with new voting machines.

Kobach urged supporters who'd gathered in the ballroom of a Topeka hotel to get some sleep early Wednesday. He ended his remarks on a conciliatory note that contrasted sharply with the final weeks of his campaign.

"This has been a very tough scrimmage," Kobach said. "I want everybody to join together, regardless, stand for the principles we all believe in."

Colyer released a statement saying he was not conceding, citing the closeness of the vote and the "extraordinary problems" in Johnson County, adding: "We are committed to ensuring that every legal vote is counted accurately throughout the canvassing process."

Kansas has no automatic recounts in elections. In a primary, a candidate must ask and pay for a recount regardless of how close the race finishes.

State law also allows mail-in ballots postmarked Tuesday to be counted if they arrive within three days of the election. County officials also still must review so-called provisional ballots, which are issued to voters when there is a question about whether they are eligible to vote at a particular polling place.

The secretary of state's office estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 provisional ballots were cast in the election. County officials don't begin certifying their results until Monday.

Colyer was trying to avoid becoming the first Kansas governor to lose a primary since 1956, and the first nationally since Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie lost a Democratic primary in 2014.

Kobach built a national reputation as a conservative agitator for both tough immigration policies and strict voter identification laws. He was an early supporter of Trump in the 2016 presidential race, advised him during the campaign and in the White House.

During his campaign for governor, Kobach repeatedly said: "I don't back down. I double down." He even rode in parades in a Jeep with a replica machine gun mounted on back, and stepped up its use after the vehicle's appearance in a July parade in the Kansas City area spurred criticism.

Some Republicans worry that Kobach's aggressive personality would make it harder to appeal to a broader electorate and give Democrats an opening in a red state that has been willing to elect Democrats as governor in the past.

After voting for Colyer in Topeka, Carolyn Wojakowksi, a 71-year-old retired teacher, said she supported Colyer because she believes he has the better chance of winning the Nov. 6 general election. As for Kobach, she said: "He's alienated himself from part of the people in Kansas by his strong stance."

In the Democratic race, voters nominated veteran state Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, to settle their first contested primary for governor since 1998.

By JOHN HANNA ,  AP Political Writer

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