2022 midterms

Kris Kobach Is Making Yet Another Comeback Attempt

Former Kansas secretary of State Kris Kobach campaigns in Emporia, Kansas, on July 24, 2022. Photo: Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock

Career politicians don’t tend to let one or two or even three defeats discourage them for running again. And so despite humiliating losses in the 2018 gubernatorial general election and the 2020 Republican Senate primary, Kansas’s former secretary of State Kris Kobach is running for state attorney general — and this time, he’s survived the first step with a plurality victory in the August 2 primary.

Kobach has tried a number of political comebacks. A lawyer who gained fame for authorship of legislation encouraging law-enforcement officials to harass immigrants that was enacted in Arizona and Alabama, he was elected to a local office in 1999 before losing a state senate race in 2000 and then a congressional race in 2004. After a controversial stint as chairman of the Kansas GOP (an FEC audit showed the party failed to pay federal or state taxes during his tenure), the fiery nativist struck gold with election as Kansas secretary of State in the Republican-wave election of 2010 (he was reelected in 2014, another GOP-wave election). This job got him into the business of voter suppression. Kansas became known as the national leader in tough voter-ID requirements, and Kobach himself became adept at advertising the phantom menace of voter fraud, which quickly made him a national celebrity when Donald Trump was elected president.

Kobach was appointed vice-chair (under the figurehead Mike Pence) of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in 2017, but that group disbanded in disarray after it failed to find any significant examples of election fraud (a number of states also refused to supply confidential information on their citizens, which Kobach blamed for his failures). Soon he was running for governor after damaged-goods conservative Sam Brownback resigned, leaving the job initially to his lieutenant governor, Jeff Colyer. Championing Brownback’s highly controversial fiscal policies, Kobach beat Colyer by 345 votes, and with Republicans defecting widely, he proceeded to give Democrats a rare Kansas win when Laura Kelly defeated him by five percentage points. But he was far from done, as I noted shortly after the race:

When veteran Republican senator Pat Roberts announced in 2019 that he was retiring, Kobach leaped into that race, touting his friendship with Trump and boasting of his unsavory national reputation as a badge of honor. He led the Republican primary field in early polls but eventually lost to congressman Roger Marshall, more of a mainstream Trump lover who successfully warned voters that Kobach might again lose a general election with frightful consequences for the GOP. 

Yet another Republican-held office opened up in 2021 when state attorney general Derek Schmidt announced he would try to win back the governorship Kobach lost four years earlier. So naturally Kobach jumped into the AG race, running on the platform of using the office to “fight back” against the Biden administration and its congressional allies, who he claims have “disregarded the constitutional limits on federal power.” Republican regulars in Kansas largely united around state senator Kelli Warren, but a strong third candidate and Kobach’s name ID and ultra-MAGA base were too much to overcome.

Can Kobach again toss a major Kansas office to the Democrats? It’s possible. The Democratic Party has a highly credible candidate in Chris Mann, a former police officer, local prosecutor, and crusader against drunk driving. He will very likely remind voters of the deeply embarrassing incident in 2018 when a federal judge amazed by the incompetence of Kobach’s courtroom defense of Kansas voting laws ordered the then–Secretary of State to take remedial law classes. The ads write themselves: Is this the guy Kansans want as their chief state legal officer? Kobach will of course benefit from the pro-Republican midterm dynamics, but it’s possible he could drag down the entire ticket, particularly given the anger at the GOP reflected in the huge August 2 vote to kill a proposed anti-abortion state constitutional amendment. It may not be the right time for another Kobach comeback after all.

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Kris Kobach Is Making Yet Another Comeback Attempt