Former Kansas GOP governor endorses Democrat over Kobach

The Kansas Republican Party is in big trouble.  From top to bottom, it's hopelessly divided between hard-right conservatives and moderates.

The state has a long tradition of turning out Republican centrists like Nancy Landon Kassebaum and former governor Bill Graves, who had the highest winning percentage of any governor in Kansas history.

Yesterday, Graves announced he's backing Democrat Laura Kelly over conservative Kris Kobach, a move seen as a repudiation of the conservatives led at one time by former governor Sam Brownback, whose disastrous term in office opened the door for Democrats in the state.

Kobach, who headed up Trump's voter fraud panel, is the current secretary of state.  He won an extremely narrow primary victory by less than 200 votes over incumbent governor Jeff Coyler, who had taken over when Brownback was named ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom earlier this year. 

It was a bruising primary that left the party divided.  Graves didn't help matters by endorsing the Democrat.

Kansas City Star:

Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, called the Graves endorsement "a big deal."

A number of moderate Republicans endorsed Democrat Paul Davis in his challenge of then-Gov. Sam Brownback in 2014, Beatty said, but none on the level of Graves.

"No matter what, the former governor who had the highest vote percentage of any governor in Kansas history, to endorse someone from the other party is pretty significant," Beatty said. ...

And despite calls for unity in the party after Kobach defeated Colyer in the Republican primary, moderates contacted by The Star have yet to fully embrace Kobach as a candidate.

Rep. Jene Vickey, a Louisburg Republican who served in the House during Graves' time as governor, has said he supports Kobach as the nominee.

"I'm not at all surprised," he said of Graves' endorsement. "I think his influence is a lot less than it was at one time."

It's been fifteen years since Graves held office, and the GOP has changed dramatically over that period of time.  The rise of the Tea Party empowered conservatives like never, before and the religious right gained a lot of influence in the Republican Party.

So Graves's influence in GOP circles is probably limited.  His endorsement will not start a stampede toward Kelly, especially after the GOP House leader issued a stark warning:

The endorsement comes roughly two weeks after House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a moderate Republican from Dighton, wrote an email to more than two dozen of his fellow centrists to discourage them from taking a public stance on anyone other than Kobach, the party's standard bearer.

In the email, Hineman warned that support for Orman or Kelly "could well be a career-ending move for anyone who chose to do so."

As it should be.  If you're going to run on a party label and accept help from that party to get elected, the only honorable thing is to support the party nominee at the top of the ticket.  Graves can do what he wants, but other Republicans in office should heed Hineman's warning.

Kobach's key to victory now is to turn out conservatives in unexpected numbers, aided by some stupid gaffe by Kelly.  Otherwise, the outlook is grim for Republicans to hold the governorship in Kansas.

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