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Kansas lawmaker launches campaign for AG with dig at Kobach

July 6, 2021 GMT
Kansas state Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, presides as the Senate Judiciary Committee's chair over a meeting at the Statehouse on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Topeka, Kan. Warren has launched a campaign for Kansas attorney general. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Kansas state Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, presides as the Senate Judiciary Committee's chair over a meeting at the Statehouse on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Topeka, Kan. Warren has launched a campaign for Kansas attorney general. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A GOP state lawmaker launched a 2022 campaign for Kansas attorney general on Tuesday, seeking to capitalize on doubts expressed by many fellow Republicans that polarizing conservative Kris Kobach can win the general election if he’s the nominee.

State Sen. Kellie Warren, a Leawood attorney, is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was at the center of debates about the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She was a key player in the GOP-controlled Legislature’s successful efforts earlier this year to curb Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s authority and limit future governors’ power.

Three-term GOP Attorney General Derek Schmidt is running for governor, and Republicans argue that it’s vital to keep the office so that it will defend conservative state policies and challenge the actions by Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration. Warren opened her campaign by describing herself as a “battle-tested conservative” in a video.

“Some people are great at creating headlines but they never win, and ultimately, it’s our values that pay the price,” Warren said in her video. “But I fight. Then I win, and that’s important.”

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It was a dig at Kobach, her main rival so far for the Republican nomination in the August 2022 primary.

Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, built a national profile as an advocate of strict immigration laws. He later became an informal adviser to President Donald Trump and was vice chairman of a short-lived Trump commission on election fraud.

But Kobach lost the 2018 governor’s race to Kelly and a Republican primary in 2020 for a U.S. Senate seat. He has alienated moderate GOP and independent voters; some Republicans see him as a lackluster fundraiser, and University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller said the party’s establishment “would rather not have him on the ticket.”

“Electability is probably going to be one of those issues that will matter in that primary,” Miller said. “You can’t hit him on conservatism, right? So I guess you could attack him on style.”

But Kobach suggested Warren isn’t qualified to be attorney general because real estate law is a major part of her private practice. Warren said in her video that she’s defended private property rights, but Kobach argued that, “If there is a less relevant legal background for the attorney general’s office than real estate law, I don’t know what it is.”

“Kansas doesn’t need a homeowner association lawyer in the attorney general’s office,” Kobach said in a statement.

Kobach also announced that he received the endorsement of John Ashcroft, a former U.S. attorney general, Missouri senator and Missouri governor. Kobach has long considered Ashcroft a mentor and worked under him at the U.S. Department of Justice early in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Ashcroft called Kobach “a man of integrity who does not run away from the fight.”

Warren was elected to the Kansas House in 2018 and won her Senate seat in 2020. She raised more than $205,000 for her Senate race, not enough for a statewide campaign, but an impressive figure for a legislative race.

As for Kobach’s suggestion that Warren is not qualified for the office, campaign consultant Jared Suhn said, “She has accomplished more for Kansans in three years in the Legislature than Kris Kobach has done as a failed career politician and unsuccessful attorney.”

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