With 100 percent of all Kansas precincts reporting, Kris Kobach has a lead over Gov. Jeff Colyer of nearly 200 votes. Provisional votes must still be counted, and a recount is always possible, but a post mortem is in order in any case.
Virtually everything the mainstream media have written about this race, local to national, has been wrong. The election was not a stunning rebuke of a sitting governor as the Kansas City Star insisted. Nor did it represent “a lurch to the right” as the New York Times imagined.
Although President Trump’s strategically late endorsement of Kobach may well have put him over the top, Kobach’s affiliation with Trump mattered far less to the voters of Kansas than it did to denizens of America’s newsrooms.
The reality is that had the election been held before Trump was elected, Kobach would have won easily. A Yale Law school grad and Oxford Ph.D., the good looking and charismatic secretary of state was the most popular Republican in Kansas. The positions he held were no more conservative than those of most other Kansas Republicans, including Colyer. Kobach distinguished himself, however, by fighting for what he believed in on a national stage.
In a New York Magazine article this week, Gabriel Debenedetti described Kobach as “the country’s single most notorious anti–illegal immigration and voter-fraud crusader.” To his credit, rare in his profession, Debenedetti uses the phrase “illegal immigration,” not the more customary and deceptive “immigration.” But only in New York newsrooms would the word “notorious” make any sense in this context. Most citizens of every state want to see their office holders fight these two patently criminal activities.
What changed the dynamic on the ground in Kansas was the elevation of Jeff Colyer to governor after the beleaguered Sam Brownback moved on in January. Colyer performed well as governor and made some gutsy conservative calls on social positions. He also got the NRA endorsement.
The national media have paid little attention to the one critical difference between Kobach and Colyer. Kobach believed that Kansas should resist the overreach of the Kansas Supreme Court on school funding. Colyer proved willing to accommodate the court. Most conservatives favored Kobach’s position. In defying the state’s powerful education lobby, however, Kris Kobach made still more enemies.
As the campaign evolved, many serious conservatives shifted their support to Colyer thinking he would be more electable in November given the relentless battering Kobach has taken in the media. That same battering, especially in the manic last week or so, persuaded many undecided Republicans to vote for Kobach as a gesture of defiance.
It remains to be seen how Kris Kobach will fare in November, but the last place one should turn for predictions is the mainstream media. They were as sure Paul Davis would be elected governor in 2014 as they were Hillary would be elected president in 2016.