Polarizing Trump ally Kobach launches bid for Kansas AG

John Hanna and Heather Hollingsworth
Associated Press

Topeka, Kan. – Polarizing conservative Kris Kobach launched a campaign Thursday for Kansas attorney general, attempting a political comeback in 2022 after losing nationally watched races for governor and U.S. Senate.

Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, built his political brand by advocating restrictive immigration policies and tough voter identification laws, including a prove-your-citizenship requirement for Kansas voters later struck down by a federal appeals court. He also was the first prominent Kansas elected official to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2016 and was vice chairman of a short-lived Trump commission on voter fraud.

He is grounding his latest campaign in promises to aggressively attack President Joe Biden’s policies in court if elected. But he faces doubts among fellow Republicans about his electability, just as he did in 2020. He lost the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate that year to Roger Marshall after losing the 2018 governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly.

In this Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump, left, takes the stage with Republican gubernatorial candidate Secretary of State Kris Kobach during a campaign rally in Topeka, Kan.

Kobach also said past work as a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor and with the U.S. Justice Department means the state attorney general’s office “suits me ideally.” The incumbent, Republican Derek Schmidt, is running for governor in 2022.

“It is going be essential that Kansas has an attorney general who has the ability to step in and defend Kansas laws while going on the offensive against unconstitutional actions in Washington,” Kobach said.

Kobach’s take-no-prisoners political style alienated moderate Republicans and independent voters in his 2018 race for governor and pushed some GOP conservatives to back Marshall in 2020.

“As Republicans, we want to win,” said Kelly Arnold, a former state GOP chairman. “He has his work cut out for him to try to rally a support base.”

His first move as a candidate for attorney general showed that he’s still likely to polarize voters. He appointed a western Kansas GOP activist, Laura Tawater, as his campaign treasurer late Wednesday night.

She has faced criticism because she was in Washington on Jan. 6, the day a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Tawater posted pictures from Washington on Facebook and said on Jan. 7 that she would miss “so many freedom-loving Patriots.”

She said in a text message that she attended the rally but didn’t go to the Capitol afterward because she had to catch a flight. The U.S. House’s second impeachment of Trump charged him with inciting the failed insurrection.

“Just about any Republican who’s interested in politics would attend a rally where the president was speaking if he or she could be there,” Kobach said. “She didn’t go to the Capitol. She just went to the rally beforehand, and I think that’s perfectly fine.”

Several county prosecutors and at least two legislators also have been mentioned as potential Republican candidates for attorney general, but none has taken any formal steps to launch a campaign. No Democratic candidates have emerged, either.

University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller said Kobach has “a very dedicated core group of supporters” that could help him win a crowded primary. That happened in 2018, but not in 2020, when Marshall prevailed in an 11-person field by 14 percentage points.

“If he faces a similar dynamic, where the Republican establishment really mobilizes against him, that may not work out well for him,” Miller said.

Kobach attributed his loss in the U.S. Senate primary to an aggressive campaign against him by allies of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who worried that a Kobach nomination would put a normally safe seat in play for Democrats.

While Democrats have held the Kansas governor’s office for 26 of the past 50 years, despite the state’s GOP leanings, they’ve held the attorney general’s office for only 11 of those years.

“Without Kobach, it is a heavily, heavily leaning Republican victory for AG because Democrats in Kansas, they need many factors to win statewide going for them. Having a good candidate is often not enough,” said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political scientist. “So some Republicans are going to be unhappy that ’Hey, this could be an easy victory but if Kobach gets the nomination, now it is a tossup.”


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.