KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Kansas state Sen. Dennis Pyle entered the Kansas gubernatorial race as an independent, alarm bells went off for those hoping Attorney General Derek Schmidt would unseat incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly.
Those fears may have been realized Tuesday during the midterm election, when Pyle garnered nearly 20,000 votes in a tight race, according to unofficial results from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.
Kelly edged Schmidt by fewer than 15,000 votes — 480,017 to 465,896, a margin of only 14,121 votes. Pyle received 19,763 votes.
Schmidt conceded Tuesday, saying it was “unlikely” late-arriving mail-in and provisional ballots would push him past Kelly in a statement from his campaign.
“Therefore, I congratulate Governor Kelly on her apparent reelection and wish the best for our beloved state during the next four years,” Schmidt said.
He did not mention Pyle in the rest of the lengthy statement.
Kelly thanked Schmidt, who had served three terms of the state’s attorney general, “for his service to the state” in a statement celebrating her victory.
She also did not mention Pyle, nor the role he may have played in her re-election.
The Schmidt and Kelly campaigns did not respond to KSHB 41's request for comment about Pyle's impact on the election.
The GOP tried to get people who signed Pyle’s petition to rescind those signatures to keep him off the ballot, according to The Associated Press, while Kelly supporters helped get Pyle’s name on the ballot.
Pyle dismissed those concerns at the time, “They need to stop whining about me being a spoiler, and they need to put on their big boy pants," he told the AP.
Pyle issued a statement Wednesday that blamed Schmidt for the loss.
"As much as Kansas desperately needed a conservative governor, the Republican party gave us a candidate that could not and did not win," he said in a statement. "The Pyle team sent a needed message to the Republican party, that Kansas needed a strong conservative candidate."
Pyle compared the number of votes Schmidt received to the number other Republican candidates for statewide office received.
Schmidt received far fewer votes than Sen. Jerry Moran (587,680), Secretary of State Scott Schwab (566,424), Kansas State Treasurer-elect Steven Johnson (523,811) and Kansas Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach (494,021), who lost to Kelly four years in his own failed bid for governor.
Pyle rankled at the idea he cost Schmidt the election.
"Many assume that the Pyle votes would have gone to Schmidt," Pyle said. "That is a false assumption. Have the Libertarian votes been considered? ... The GOP could have done better."
Pyle, an ultra-conservative from Hiawatha, gathered signatures to get his name added to the ballot and positioned himself as the only true conservative candidate, claiming both Schmidt and Kelly had “radically liberal” policy views.
A grain and livestock farmer, Pyle left the Republican party after being stripped of his committee assignments for voting against the Ad Astra 2 map last spring before announcing his gubernatorial bid.
He predicted that his campaign would unite Kansas conservatives, but Pyle was excluded from the Kansas gubernatorial debates because he wasn’t polling better than 7%.
While the election numbers aren’t official yet, Kelly won 49% of the vote compared to 48% for Schmidt and 2% for Pyle.
Libertarian candidate Seth Cordell received 10,664 votes, good for the final 1% of 976,340 votes cast in the race.