Kobach’s immigration emphasis falls short in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Kris Kobach made fighting illegal immigration a key issue in running for Kansas governor, echoing President Donald Trump’s tactics in the campaign’s final weeks. It didn’t work, and Democrat Laura Kelly defeated him.
Kelly won even though Kobach was Trumps’ most visible ally in the state and the president came to Kansas to campaign for him.
Kobach wasn’t the only Kansas Republican caught in Trump’s immigration crossfire. Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, chairman of a House subcommittee on homeland security, lost his seat after he he was criticized for not opposing more fervently Trump’s policy of separating of immigrant families at the border.
Kelly wooed GOP moderates and independent voters in the governor’s race while Kobach concentrated only on his conservative base. She made the race a referendum on unpopular former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012-13 experiment in slashing income taxes that left a hole in state finances. Most of the tax cuts were reversed last year.
She told her supporters Tuesday night that voters spoke “with a single, thunderous voice” in demanding bipartisanship.
“Kansans voted for change, a change not only in the direction of our state but a change in the tone in our state,” she declared.
Kobach had promised a no-apologies style of conservatism, and attacking illegal immigration has long been part of his political brand. He promised to pursue policies to encourage immigrants living in the state illegally to leave. Like Trump, he made a caravan of several thousand migrants moving through Mexico an issue late in the campaign.
“We fought the good fight,” he told his supporters Tuesday night in his concession speech at a Topeka hotel. “This one just wasn’t God’s will.”
Kelly said that while she favors secure borders, combatting illegal immigration requires comprehensive legislation from Congress. She said Kobach’s immigration policies would hurt the state’s economy, particularly in western Kansas, which depends on immigrant workers for the meatpacking industry.
Ellie Smith, a 24-year-old Democratic voter, stay-at-home mom and musician from Topeka, said Kobach’s positions on immigration “hurts my heart.”
“I believe that everybody belongs here,” she said.
The Immigration issue highlights a longstanding split in the Kansas GOP that has led to the state alternating between Republican and Democratic governors over the past 50 years despite a sizeable GOP advantage among registered voters.
Kelly benefited from the unpopularity of Brownback, whose tax cutting experiment was labeled a failure even by some national Republicans. He resigned in January to take an ambassador’s post in Trump’s administration. Kobach barely defeated Brownback’s appointed successor, Gov. Jeff Colyer, in the Republican primary in August.
Kelly’s message of higher spending on education resonated with some Republican voters such as Kimberli Evans, a 43-year-old federal employee from Topeka.
She said fair funding for public schools was one of her big concerns.
“I believe that the Brownback experiment did not work and needs to be reversed,” Evans said after casting her ballot.
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