TOPEKA, Kan. — Republicans on Tuesday nominated Kris Kobach for Kansas attorney general, keeping alive the polarizing conservative’s bid for a political comeback following his losses in a governor’s race and U.S. Senate primary over the past four years.
Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state who built a national profile by advocating tough immigration policies and questioning the integrity of elections, defeated two lesser-known rivals in the primary. He won a close race, overcoming many Republicans’ qualms over his losses to Democrat Laura Kelly in the 2018 governor’s race and to Roger Marshall in the 2020 Senate primary.
After his win, he sought to reassure the Republican base about his chances in November, telling The Associated Press by phone that the depiction of him as a perpetual loser was overblown and noting that one of his losses happened in 2018, which he described as a “bloodbath for Republicans.”
“2022 is going to be a very strong year for Republicans,” he said. “Conditions will be different.”
He also said he was disappointed that voters rejected a ballot measure that would have amended the state constitution to specify that it doesn’t ensure the right to abortion, which would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to further restrict abortion or ban it outright.
Kobach’s backers argued that this year’s elections are likely to see a surge in conservative voters in November because of anger over inflation, gas prices and COVID-19 restrictions. The Democratic nominee is first-time candidate Chris Mann, a private practice attorney who previously worked as a police officer and prosecutor.
Many Republican critics of Kobach had put their hopes in state Sen. Kellie Warren, a Kansas City-area attorney who was outspoken in legislative efforts to add anti-abortion language to the state constitution and to limit the power of state and local officials to close businesses and impose other restrictions during pandemics.
Warren, who traded the lead repeatedly with Kobach throughout the night, conceded defeat just before midnight in a statement that thanked her supporters.
Kobach promoted election fraud as a big issue a decade before former President Donald Trump pressed his false claims that fraud cost him reelection in 2020. Kobach was the first prominent Kansas elected official to endorse Trump in 2016 and served as vice chairman of a Trump commission on election fraud. He is promising to pursue such cases if he’s elected attorney general.
But Kobach’s bigger pitch to Republican voters was that he will look for ways to sue Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration and will file lawsuits even when he believes victory is far from guaranteed.
Warren had the backing of the politically influential Kansas Chamber of Commerce, as well as the small-government, low-tax group Americans for Prosperity. She attacked Kobach for his election losses and questioned his abilities as a lawyer, while he mocked her as a lawyer with little actual courtroom experience.
A third candidate, former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi, trailed Kobach and Warren by a wide margin. During his campaign, Mattivi touted his experience as a prosecutor and argued that the attorney general’s biggest job was to keep Kansas residents safe. But the campaign never gained traction.
Kobach is a former University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who served in the U.S. Justice Department before losing a race for Congress in 2004. He won the Kansas secretary of state’s office in 2010, defeating two lesser-known candidates in the primary and riding a Republican midterm wave that year to oust a Democratic incumbent appointed to fill a vacancy only months before.