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Kobach is looking for a comeback in Kansas after losing 2 major races

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas voters have said no to him twice in the last four years. But even so, Kris Kobach is betting that this could be the year he makes a political comeback.

His losses, including the 2018 defeat that handed the governorship in this Republican state to a Democrat, could end other political careers. But Kobach, who built a national reputation as an immigration hardliner while serving as Kansas secretary of state, is now taking aim at the state attorney general’s office.

He faces two Republican opponents who lack his star power. If he wins the Aug. 2 primary, the expected GOP surge in November could be enough to lift even wavering candidates.

So far, the primary race against state Sen. Kelly Warren and former U.S. Attorney Tony Mattivi has been mostly about the candidates’ backgrounds, their personal styles and whether they have the skills to win lawsuits against President Joe Biden’s policies on issues such as guns, abortion and drug regulation. the business.

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“I decided to run for attorney general the day President Biden was sworn into office,” Kobach said in the final candidates’ debate after promising to create a special department focused on suing the federal government.

But Warren, Mativy and their supporters want to be in the electability race as well — even if it looks like any Democrat would be a weak match for any Republican, given inflation, gas prices and anger over COVID-19 restrictions. Democratic first-time candidate Chris Mann, an attorney, former police officer and former local prosecutor.

“Why take a chance?” said Alan Cobb, president and CEO of the influential Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Warren in the attorney general race. “There are exceptions to the waves all the time.”

Kobach’s years of pushing tough immigration and voter ID policies, combined with a brash personality, alienated independent and moderate GOP voters in the 2018 gubernatorial race. Prominent Republicans then branded him too risky a bet in 2020. and he lost the Senate primary by 14 percentage points to U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, who went on to win the general election.

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Brittany Jones, Kansas Family Voice’s political director, called Kobach “a good guy” who would undoubtedly side with the conservative group on issues. But the group backed Warren over Kobach.

“He’s proven time and time again that he can’t win,” Jones said. Kobach also lost a race for Congress in 2004.

Mativey has handled high-profile terrorism cases as a federal prosecutor and has the endorsement of dozens of sheriffs and prosecutors, including the district attorney in the state’s most populous county. During the recent debate, he said: “Electability is absolutely a problem.”

But Kobach argued in the latest debate that he has shown he can beat Democrats in state races by winning terms as secretary of state in 2010 and 2014. Republican state Sen. JR Claeys, a consultant to Kobach, said the coming “ big red wave’ washes away any remaining questions about Kobach’s electability.

On primary day, Kansas residents will vote to add anti-abortion language to the state constitution, and Kobach said supporters of the measure will most likely vote for it. But Warren was visible in the legislative push to get it on the ballot.

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In Kobach’s first race for secretary of state in 2010, he was better known than his two opponents, thanks to his national profile as a law professor who wrote tough state and local immigration rules outside of Kansas. That November, he ousted a Democratic president appointed to the state’s top elected office just months earlier.

In his second term, Kobach’s star continues to rise. He was an early prominent supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid in Kansas, advised Trump on immigration, served as vice chairman of Trump’s short-lived Commission on Election Fraud and was mentioned as a possible Cabinet appointee. He was a regular guest on Fox News and a columnist for Breitbart.

He popularized the idea that fraud was skewing US elections long before much of the Republican Party accepted Trump’s false claims about his loss in the 2020 presidential election.

Kobach argued in the recent debate that his 2018 gubernatorial bid fell victim to a national midterm “bloodbath” for the Republican Party.

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In Kansas that year, Democrat Charisse Davids unseated a four-term Republican incumbent in a Kansas City-area congressional district, and Gov. Laura Kelly was among seven new Democratic governors who replaced Republicans. Democrats have regained their majority in the US House of Representatives.

But Kelly Arnold, the state GOP chairman at the time, said Kobach’s fundraising in 2018 was weak. In the attorney general race, Kobach gave his campaign $200,000 last year, which was nearly half of the $425,000 he raised.

Arnold also argued that Kobach’s candidacy energized the Democratic Party’s political base.

“The only thing that can rally Democrats to get out and vote is Kobach,” Arnold said.

Some of Kobach’s critics still talk about the SUV loaned to him by a supporter in 2018 with a replica machine gun on the back. Mandy Hunter, a 46-year-old moderate Republican and real estate attorney from the Kansas City area, mentioned it, describing Kobach as “an incredible disagreement.”

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Kobach drove the Jeep in parades and poked fun at what he called the resulting “snowflake meltdown.”

“Kobach has a swagger — an extreme confidence in all situations,” said Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University. “A lot of GOP voters like that unless, as in the Senate race, he faces a well-funded opponent who can inform them of his negatives.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and James Dobson, the evangelical author, broadcaster and founder of Focus on the Family, endorsed Kobach, as did former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom Kobach described as a mentor.

GOP voters may also feel that the attorney general’s office suits Kobach better than the other offices he is seeking. Chris Van Meteren, head of a Republican consulting and direct mail firm in the Kansas City area, said Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state had a “law and order” tone, emphasizing election fraud as an issue.

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And as GOP voters look for someone to aggressively challenge the Biden administration, Kobach is better known than other candidates as a “fighter,” Van Meteren added.

“He has the most established reputation as someone who is ready to take on the left,” Van Meteren said.

Leonard Hall, a 69-year-old Kansas City-area attorney, said he has not decided which candidate to support but thinks Kobach’s past losses are “not a problem.”

“I don’t look at it in the past tense,” Hall said after the recent debate. “The very fact that Kobach lost, I don’t think that can be denied.”

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Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth in Overland Park, Kan., contributed to this report.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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Kobach is looking for a comeback in Kansas after losing 2 major races

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