News Politics

Pro-Choice Democrat Wins Kansas Gubernatorial Primary (Updated)

Erin Heger

Kansas could make history this fall if its U.S. Congressional Democratic candidates are successful.

UPDATE:  August 15, 9:15 a.m.: Kris Kobach won the Republican nomination for governor in Kansas after incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded.

Kansas Democrats solidly rejected an anti-choice candidate for governor in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, while the race for the Republican nomination remains too close to call.

In the first contested Democratic gubernatorial primary in two decades, pro-choice state Sen. Laura Kelly (D-18) took a clear and early lead, clinching the Democratic nomination with 52 percent of the vote and defeating four other candidates. Former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer finished with 20 percent of the vote, and Josh Svaty—who has an anti-choice voting record—came in third with 18 percent of the vote. Kelly is known for working across the aisle; she served in the Kansas legislature for 14 years and received the backing of former two-term Kansas Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

“Tonight’s victory was clear. It was very decisive, and it was the result of Kansans from all backgrounds coming together to share one voice and say one thing: Enough,” Kelly told a group of supporters in Topeka Tuesday night.

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On the Republican side, Trump-endorsed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach leads incumbent Jeff Colyer with 191 votes—a margin of 0.06 percent. The race remained tight through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and is still too close to call as provisional ballots are still being counted and mail-in-ballots continue to arrive. Kansas doesn’t have an automatic recount, but a candidate, registered voter, or election official can ask for one, and if the margin in a statewide race is less than 0.5 percent, the state will pay for it. Neither Colyer or Kobach have announced at this point whether they will ask for a recount, although some leaders in the state Republican Party have hinted at the possibility.

Colyer served as lieutenant governor under former-Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who was deeply unpopular at the time of his departure in January when he took an ambassador position with the Trump Administration, a move that elevated Colyer to governor.

Kobach is a leading proponent of voter suppression, including Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship measure, which was recently struck down by a federal judge. He served as the vice chair of President Trump’s controversial voter fraud commission, which was disbanded over concerns about demands for states to hand over voter data, leading to several lawsuits against the panel.

In November, Kelly and the Republican nominee will likely also face independent Greg Orman, who submitted thousands of signatures this week to gain a spot on the ballot, and Libertarian Jeff Caldwell.

Kansas could make history this fall if its U.S. Congressional Democratic candidates are successful.

Sharice Davids clinched the Democratic nomination with 37 percent of the vote in the state’s 3rd Congressional District. Davids could be the first Native American woman elected to Congress (Deb Haaland, a Democrat running in New Mexico’s District 1, could also be the first) and the first LGBT person to represent Kansas if she wins in November. EMILY’s List backed Davids, who defeated five other candidates including Brent Welder, a labor lawyer who campaigned on a platform that included Medicare-for-All and a $15 minimum wage. He recently rallied with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—the democratic socialist who unseated a top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives in her New York primary—and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Davids will take on incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, who represents a district that Hillary Clinton won by one point in 2016 and Mitt Romney won by 10 points in 2012. CBS News rates Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District as “very likely” or “probably” competitive in November.

In the 4th Congressional District, progressive candidate James Thompson handedly won the Democratic nomination with 65 percent of the vote. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez also rallied for Thompson in July. He will face off against incumbent Republican Rep. Ron Estes, who narrowly defeated Thompson in an April 2017 special election for the same seat, despite the district having voted for Donald Trump by about 30 percentage points in 2016. Thompson, who is pro-choice, won his 2017 primary after voters pushed back against attempts to advance an anti-choice Democrat as the district’s nominee.

Democracy For America (DFA) supported Thompson in the 2017 special election race and continues to back him as he prepares to challenge Estes in November.

“James Thompson’s shockingly strong showing in his 2017 special election was one of the very first signs that a progressive tsunami was possible in 2018,” DFA Chair Jim Dean said in a statement. “Democracy for America members were honored to stand with James Thompson in 2017, we were thrilled to stand with him once again in today’s primary, and we can’t wait to battle alongside him for critical inclusive populist priorities like Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, and criminal justice reform through November and beyond.”

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