While much of the nation expected a red wave in Tuesday’s election, Kansas very nearly experienced a mini blue wave – with a controversial Democrat governor eking out a second win in a Trump stronghold, and a Democrat congresswoman cruising to re-election in a district redrawn to help the Republican.
Only a narrow Republican victory in the attorney general’s race and a strong GOP legislative showing prevented the mini blue wave.
In the case of Gov. Laura Kelly barely besting gubernatorial rival and state Attorney General Derek Schmidt 49% to 48%, a Republican insider cites massive amounts of out-of-state Democrat money and ads, and a spoiler independent candidacy by self-styled conservative state Sen. Dennis Pyle.
Untold millions – likely north of $18 million, but perhaps much more, the insider says – came in from out-of-state leftist organizations to attack Schmidt and promote Pyle. In the end, Pyle and a Libertarian candidate siphoned off 30,000 votes between them, the lion’s share of which presumably would’ve gone to Schmidt.
As of Wednesday morning, Schmidt was only losing by some 13,700 votes.
“He claims to be far right,” the insider said of Pyle, “but he doesn’t care whether or not someone with far liberal views wins. It makes him happy just to say that he was a spoiler. He’s the most contrarian person you probably will ever meet. He enjoys causing trouble. He’s been that way in the Senate. That’s just his M.O.”
A second Republican insider readily agreed with that assessment.
Meanwhile, pro-Pyle radio ads down the stretch were funded by the far-left American Center group in Washington, D.C. One news report says American Center “shares the same address as the multinational law firm Perkins Coie, which routinely represents national Democrats, and shares an address with a host of other left-leaning political and lobbying groups.”
The Republican insider, speaking to The Heartlander on condition of anonymity, said infamous Hillary Clinton lawyer Marc Elias was also involved in the pro-Pyle ads. Perkins Coie, which shares an address with American Center, happens to be Elias’ old law firm.
In addition, Kansas Values Institute, whose largest donors are described as “teacher unions, abortion-related organizations, ‘dark money,’ and the Democratic Governors Association,” spent big on ads attacking Schmidt.
All that out-of-state money attacking Schmidt and propping up Pyle also allowed Kelly the luxury of putting out Will Rogers-style folksy ads in which she claimed credit for legislative acts and maintained she’s middle of the road politically.
“Oh, absolutely not,” the insider said. “The Democrats didn’t put $30 million into that campaign because she was middle of the road. She certainly was forced to tack right because of the campaign.
“But now she’s unchecked, because she doesn’t have to run for re-election. So I think people will see right now exactly what they got in the second term of Kathleen Sebelius.”
Sebelius is a former Democrat governor of Kansas and Obama secretary of Health and Human Services, whose main claim to fame now is having resigned in embarrassment after presiding over what even The New York Times called “the disastrous rollout of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act.”
In short, millions in out-of-state money from the left, including dark money, went into attacking Kelly’s main rival and promoting a third candidate, after Democrats worked to get that candidate in the race as a spoiler.
“They made sure that Dennis Pyle got on the ballot by passing out his petition to get him on the ballot,” the insider said.
Making the Kansas race even more of a national focal point for Democrats is this: “Kelly was the only Democratic governor running for re-election in a state carried in 2020 by former President Donald Trump,” reports Fox News.
It all combined to blunt what was, by all accounts, a tireless effort by Schmidt to win.
“He outworked Laura 10 to 1 in this race,” the insider said. “He was everywhere. He was in every county multiple times. There are still counties in this state that Laura has never been in.
“She just did the old Joe Biden hide-in-the-bunker campaign and just let other people carry the water for her – spend all the media money that came in from the outside and let other people do all the heavy lifting. And she just sat back and tried to look above it. And it worked.”
It didn’t help Schmidt that he underperformed in Sedgwick County (Wichita) and that Kelly won some 59% of the vote in the state’s most populous enclave, Johnson County (Kansas City).
“That’s crazy,” the insider said. “But Johnson County’s just changed. It went from being, at one time, one of the most reliable conservative counties to now turning definitely blue.”
The outcome indicates an anti-Trump blue wave in the county in 2020 has been kept alive without Trump on the ballot. In addition, on Tuesday four conservative Johnson County Commission candidates all went down to defeat.
Republicans, while they yet maintain veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, have work to do to reclaim the two most populous areas of the state.
“Twenty percent of the Kansas population’s in Johnson County now,” the insider said. “That really does affect the outcome of any statewide race. If (Johnson County) turns blue, and they turn out, that really changes the entire complexion of the way the state looks.”
Then again – just as with the August defeat of the state’s Value Them Both amendment that would’ve allowed for regulation of abortion – Republicans can’t control out-of-state campaign money that purports to advance Kansas values.