Kansas is the most interesting state in the (political) union right now. And one man is right in the middle of it: Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
It was Kobach who ruled that Democratic nominee Chad Taylor, who wants to drop out of the Senate race, must remain on the November ballot. That decision could quite literally swing control of the U.S. Senate, depending on the winner of the contest between Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and independent candidate Greg Orman, whose emergence preceded Taylor’s withdrawal. Kobach has also been inevitably allied with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who is currently trailing his Democratic challenger in what could be the upset of the 2014 cycle.
So Democratic eyes are fixed on Kansas. But they aren’t just looking at Brownback and Roberts. They want Kobach, too. He has the tea party resume that liberals loathe, and he’s also up for re-election. Now it looks like Democrats have a realistic chance to unseat him.
The KSN News/Survey USA poll released Monday found Democratic candidate Jean Schodorf leading Kobach by three percentage points, 46 percent to 43 percent. That is within the margin of error, but it is a significant reversal from June when Survey USA found Kobach leading Schodorf, 47 percent to 41 percent.
Kobach might not quite be Public Enemy No. 1, but his resume reads like a conservative greatest hits of the Obama era. He helped write the 2010 Arizona immigration law that controversially permitted law enforcement to check a person’s legal status with minimal cause, parts of which were eventually thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court. He instituted a voter ID law once he got into office in Kansas. He also pursued alongside Arizona a legal fight with the federal government over including proof-of-citizenship requirements on federal voter registration forms in his state. He even toyed with Obama birtherism in 2012.
The presumed thinking in Kansas has been that Taylor dropped out of the race because it cleared the Senate field for Orman but also in part so Democrats could focus on state races. Brownback is their top target — but Kobach isn’t too far behind, Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, told TPM recently.
“The top two races have always been governor and secretary of state,” he said. “The governor’s race is this sort of obsession, but they think, ‘Hey, maybe we can get Kobach, too.'”
With their nominee out of the Senate race, Beatty continued, “Democrats don’t have to feel guilty about not doing much for Taylor. They can go for the big guns in those races.”
The secretary of state race is another manifestation of the internal Kansas politics that are putting Brownback on the hot seat and a longtime incumbent like Roberts at risk. Beatty and others say that the state always had a self-perception of moderation, but the Brownback administration (with some help from Kobach) has been defined by its harshly conservative agenda. Now, a blowback seems to be underway, if the polling is to be believed.
Schodorf herself is a prime example. As recently as 2012, she was a Republican and the state Senate majority whip. But she was defeated in the GOP primary in 2012 with her conservative opponent receiving support from Kobach.
Now she is challenging Kobach as a Democrat and slamming him as an “extremist.” She also ripped his recent decision to keep Taylor on the ballot in the Senate race, saying it revealed “his partisan nature.”
“Mr. Kobach does not act with the best intentions of Kansans in mind. He only considers what is best for his personal agenda,” she said. “This stands directly against what is best for the people of Kansas.”