It made headlines when former Kansas governor Bill Graves, a Republican, endorsed the Democratic opponent of his party’s current gubernatorial nominee, Kris Kobach. It was not an isolated phenomenon, as the Kansas City Star reported on Tuesday after surveying Republican legislators:
Almost 40 percent of Republicans in the Kansas Legislature, when asked whether they will support Kobach in November, either would not say or did not respond to repeated inquiries. Four moderate Republicans, all from Johnson County, have said they will not support Kobach.
“I’m not going to take a position on that race. I just don’t feel like it’s any benefit to me to do that,” said House Majority Whip Kent Thompson, a Republican from Iola, without elaborating.
The problem is that Kobach has taken simmering ideological tensions within his party and raised them to a boil. The Kansas GOP has just survived finally getting rid of former Governor Sam Brownback’s ruinous fiscal policies, and Kobach is promising to bring them back with a vengeance, after defeating Governor Jeff Colyer in the primary. And Kobach would add to Brownback’s extremist formula his own nationally notorious hostility to immigrants and to voting rights. No wonder Republicans are nervous about encouraging, much less embracing, his candidacy.
Kansas Democrats, whose candidate is moderate legislator Laura Kelly, don’t have much of a unity problem:
On the Democratic side, 94 percent of those in the Legislature said they will vote for Kelly in November.
“She will be a great Governor and the alternative is too horrible to even contemplate,” Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, a Prairie Village Democrat, said in an email.
Right now the biggest threat to Kelly may not be Kobach himself, but independent candidate Greg Orman (a viable U.S. Senate candidate in 2014), who could take away anti-Kobach votes and let the fiery right-winger win with a plurality. But some Republicans are still placing pressure on the abstainers to get on board the Kobach train to the fever swamps, as the Star notes:
If Kobach doesn’t win, said Rep. Jack Thimesch, a Spivey Republican, “we’re in a mess again.”
He scorned the lawmakers who won’t say whether or not they’re supporting Kobach.
“There’s a lot of them that don’t have no balls or no guts,” Thimesch said.
But they might have brains.