Can Laura Kelly Survive the Midterm?

Kansas, who will you vote for this time?

With the 2022 election season slowly ramping up it’s time to take out first look at the competitive races that we’ll see. In this article we’re going over Kansas, where incumbent Democrat Laura Kelly is in for what will likely be a close race for control of the Governorship. Kelly winning the Governorship here in 2018 has allowed Democrats to block the GOP from passing controversial legislation, primarily by getting Moderate Republicans to vote with Democrats on key issues and preventing veto overrides. While many of these Moderate Republicans were voted out in the 2020 primaries, there still remains enough to prevent veto overrides. Because of this, in the case that Kelly wins the status quo will remain and most major GOP priorities blocked for another 4 years. If the Republican wins it’ll result in a flood of GOP legislation being passed in Kansas. Now that we have the big picture set up, lets see who the GOP might run.

The Republicans

Starting out with Jeff Colyer, who ran for Governor back in 2018 after being Sam Brownback’s Lieutenant Governor. Colyer ended up losing to Kris Kobach in the GOP primary by a mere 350 votes out of 317,173 votes cast, and appears to think he’ll have better luck this time around. Colyer is a fairly standard Kansas Republican, and doesn’t stand out as being ideologically moderate or far right. Colyer also served as Governor of Kansas from January 2018-January 2019 after Brownback resigned to take an ambassadorship. Colyer will probably focus on winning over Republicans in KS-01 and suburban areas, which is where his strength was in the 2018 primary as well.

Moving on to Derek Schmidt, who has served as the Attorney General of Kansas since 2011. Schmidt is more on the far right side of Kansas Republicans, notably challenging Laura Kelly’s public health orders relating to COVID and joining the efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He’s also objected to Biden’s actions on climate change and the voting rights bill passed by the US House. The Republican primary is basically going to be everyone arguing over who’s more Conservative than the other, and Schmidt has more to draw off of here. 

There’s also an off chance of some others joining the race, but it seems rather unlikely at this point. The only other contenders are Mike Pompeo and Kris Kobach. However Pompeo simply doesn’t seem interested and Kobach’s reputation has been completely crushed after his loss in the 2018 Governor’s race and his lackluster performance in the 2020 US Senate primary. The only thing that could possibly save him would be a Trump endorsement, and I find that highly unlikely. That said if Pompeo gets involved he’d have a good chance of winning. He’s earned the support of the pro-Trump camp from being Trump’s extremley loyal secretary of state, and would probably get an endorsement from Trump rather easily. I don’t anticipate Pompeo joining the race, but I’m fairly certain he’d win the GOP primary. Most of the other possible candidates I don’t think would do well enough to challenge Colyer and Schmidt, so I won’t bother mentioning them. 

Overall I feel like Schmidt is favored to win the Republican primary. He has a reputation as a strong conservative while Colyer is just a conservative. Colyer seems more well liked by Agriculture interests, so he has something going for him there. That said Schmidt might be more likely to get an endorsement from Trump, considering he’s backed Trump before. 

What about Kelly?

Before I say my thoughts on how the general election might go, it’s also important to look at what Laura Kelly’s situation is like. We haven’t had polls for quite a while, but some from mid-late 2020 have Kelly hovering in the 45%-55% Approval/Favorable to 30%-40% Disapproval/Unfavorable rating, which is pretty good. That said the lack of recent polling makes me not want to put too much faith in these numbers, as the situation has changed quite a bit since then. Overall, though, it appears she’s been doing alright as Governor, and because of that she has a good shot at re-election. One issue for Kelly, apart from Republicans who dislike her COVID policies, is that she’s upset some Democrats by proposing cuts to higher education, and without any pressure from Republicans on the issue. There isn’t any polling on this, but my anecdotal experience is that a lot of Democrats are not happy with Laura Kelly right now. Kelly will need to find a way to address this before election day 2022. 

What’s the Big Picture?

CNalysis has this race as a Toss-Up for now, but if the level of partisan polarization remain at the level they are, Kelly could be in for some trouble that approval ratings cannot fix. That isn’t a given, however, and  Kelly’s approval rating might be strong enough to keep her in office. No matter, this is set to be a very competitive race, so follow it closely!