Jim Who? I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s lay down the logic of this prediction, which, by the way, in Kobach’s case, is certainly not a wish by any means.
Let’s start with the Republicans and their primary election. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, is the most widely known politician in the state besides Gov. Sam Brownback, according to a 2017 Fort Hays State University poll. Kobach’s name identification is 77 percent, which is 20 points higher than his next closest competitor. At the same time, Kobach has the lowest approval rating of any of the nine politicians named in the survey. On a 1-10 scale, Kobach scores only a 4 on approval.
Kobach is widely known and widely disliked. So, why am I predicting him to be the GOP nominee?
The other strong contender in the Republican field is Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. But the poll found that only one-third of Kansans recognize his name. That will change dramatically, though, when Brownback departs for a job in the Trump administration and Colyer becomes governor.
If this were just a two-man Republican primary, Colyer would probably beat Kobach. But it is not.
On the contrary, the lineup of GOP candidates is starting to look like the last presidential campaign, where the Republicans filled an entire stage. This results in a fragmented vote. Kobach has a base of supporters who are undoubtedly loyal to him and, thus, with just a fraction of the vote, Kobach likely would emerge as the nominee.
I also think Kobach will run the most effective campaign, establishing himself as the true conservative which is a good place to be in a Republican primary race. I should hastily add that this prediction contradicts some highly respected pundits who think Kobach will implode and Colyer will be the nominee.
Which brings us to the Democrats. So far, there are three plausible gubernatorial candidates: Carl Brewer, former mayor of Wichita; Josh Svaty from rural Kansas, who is a former state secretary of agriculture; and Jim Ward from Wichita, who is the minority leader of the Kansas House.
In that same Fort Hays State University poll, one-third of Kansans knew Brewer, and he had a decent approval rating. Only 10 percent had ever heard of Svaty. And Ward is not even on the list of politicians polled.
Brewer’s Wichita support, which is sizable, would be diluted by Ward. If successful, Brewer would be the first African-American governor in Kansas. I don’t know if Kansas is ready for that, but the fact cannot be ignored. Svaty has a big strike against him. He is staunchly pro-life, which in a Democratic primary in Kansas is a non-starter.
Ward also has challenges to overcome. His biggest is a DUI arrest a decade ago. Opponents will ram that home in negative commercials. Ward has said he made a huge mistake and would never let it happen again. So far, that error in judgment has not been repeated. He is not universally loved by Democrats, and he won his House leadership role by only one vote. The man is controversial, and, to many, too liberal.
Now, the reasons I think he will prevail: Ward has a dynamic personality and is terrific in public appearances. He takes strong positions and articulates them as well or better than any politician I have heard in Kansas in a long time. Here’s the clincher: Ward is the only Democrat who can stand up to clever Kobach, who is also plenty dynamic. Ward would hold his own.
The key to Ward’s ultimate success in a general election could be the overwhelming disapproval of Kobach by moderate Republicans, who would cross parties for that race. Whatever issues moderate Republicans might have with Ward would melt away if they thought he could defeat Kobach.
That’s how it looks now. But the wild card is if Colyer can prove he is a terrific campaigner and knock out Kobach. Then, all bets are off.