KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The margin was smaller, but Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly won re-election to a second term in Tuesday's election, defeating Attorney General Derek Schmidt in the midterms.
Kelly, a well-respected former longtime state senator, became governor after beating controversial former Kansas Secretary of State and Trump acolyte Kris Kobach, in the 2018 gubernatorial race by 5%.
Her margin narrowed, but she prevailed once again to win another four-year term.
Schmidt was elected as attorney general in 2010, winning re-election in 2014 and 2018 by wide margins. He announced his intent to run for governor in March 2021.
Despite drew support nationally, including from Florida Gov. and potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate Ron Desantis, but it wasn't enough to unseat Kelly, who touted her record of attracting business to Kansas and restoring school funding after former Gov. Sam Brownback's tax experiment blew holes in the state budget.
Schmidt and Kelly clashed on numerous occasions during her first term, including her emergency orders during the COVID-19 pandemic — like vaccine distribution to prison populations, school district mask mandates and the GOP-controlled legislature's tightening of the reins on the governor's power to issue regulations through state regulations.
Kelly's campaign issued a lengthy statement shortly before noon:
The people of Kansas sent a very clear message at the polls yesterday. Kansans said we will keep moving forward as a state, full steam ahead – there will be no turning backward.
I want to thank Attorney General Derek Schmidt for his service to the state. We had strong, healthy disagreements on the issues, but I do believe he cares about this state, and that we stand united in our commitment to Kansas and its future success.
Kansans voted for strong public schools, for economic growth, for balanced budgets, and for protecting individual rights – including a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions.
Perhaps above all, I believe Kansans voted today for civility, for cooperation, for listening to one another, and for a spirit of bi-partisan problem-solving, that’s become all too rare in our politics today.
I spoke a lot in this campaign about my middle-of-the-road approach, because governing from the middle is important. Everyone is tired of hyper-partisanship and vitriol in our politics – and everyone’s tired of being at each other’s throats. That’s why those nasty, negative, divisive ads against us backfired.
When you look at the successes we’ve achieved these first 4 years, we’ve done it by working together – from fully funding our schools, to eliminating the food tax, reinvesting in infrastructure, recruiting businesses to Kansas from around the world, and creating and retaining 53,000 jobs.
I’m excited about the future of Kansas.
These first four years were, in large part, about getting our state back on track.
These next four years are about taking Kansas to the next level. These next four years are about making sure Kansas lives up to its potential as the very best place in America to raise a family. These next four years are where the boundless optimism of Kansans will be met with the boundless opportunities they deserve.
That means high-speed Internet for all our communities and families, and affordable health care for every Kansan. We will expand Medicaid once and for all.
That means new job opportunities, but also new career opportunities, and we’ll speed up the elimination of the food tax – so that Kansans see those savings immediately. And that means we will have the most comprehensive, robust, early childhood education system in the country.
I know the future is very bright for Kansas.
I thank the people of Kansas for the honor to continue serving you and the state we love.
Now, we get back to work.
Schmidt conceded early Wednesday afternoon:
Preliminary election-night vote totals are in from all counties. The election, of course, is not final until every lawful ballot is counted, and we are advised by election officials that thousands remain uncounted including late-arriving mail ballots and provisional ballots. However, it seems unlikely those will be sufficient to close the remaining gap, so absent any unexpected development it appears this race is over.
"Therefore, I congratulate Governor Kelly on her apparent reelection and wish the best for our beloved state during the next four years.
"It has been a tremendous honor to be the nominee of the Republican Party for governor of Kansas. I am grateful for the unwavering support and encouragement of my family, particularly my wife, Jennifer, and our daughters, Caroline and Claire; of my running mate, Katie Sawyer, and her family; of our many friends and supporters and volunteers throughout our state; of our extraordinary campaign team and staff; of the talented men and women at the Office of the Attorney General who ensured the professional work of that office continued uninterrupted; and of all who made this race possible. This journey has truly been a blessing, and for that I will always be thankful.
"If there is any disappointment beyond the immediate sting, it is having witnessed up close the concerning tendency of modern political discourse to veer away from discussing the great public issues we must solve together. In Kansas, those include the continued long-term outmigration of our population both young and old, the effective management of our precious water resource, an excessive state and local tax burden, outdated or archaic structures or methods of delivering public services, a public education system that needs more than money to better serve our children, and the alarming structural imbalance that persists in our state’s budget despite being masked for now by the temporary proceeds of inflation.
"Over the course of this campaign, I had the great pleasure to talk with thousands of my fellow Kansans one-on-one and face-to-face. I know their desire to solve these and other difficult problems is sincere and lasting — and I will continue to be among those who want to make our state better, despite the gravitational pull of modern politics and mass communication having largely obscured so much of that discussion.
"Still, despite all our challenges and frustrations, we live in an extraordinary state and nation where an ordinary kid from Independence, Kansas, can grow up to carry the banner of one of America’s great political parties in a campaign to govern the state he loves. That alone is a victory, and it is one I hope we can all share. Thank you, Kansas, for this opportunity.