It’s big day for Kris Kobach, a long-time leader of the extreme anti-immigrant movement who is running for Governor of Kansas. This past weekend, ProPublica in an in-depth article titled “Kris Kobach’s Lucrative Trail of Courtroom Defeats,” reminded readers of Kobach’s long history of filing anti-immigrant ordinances, most of which were found unconstitutional, but not before adding to his financial coffers while costing the local governments millions.
Kobach’s primary for Kansas Governor is today, and it is a nail biter. Despite Donald Trump’s endorsement, Kobach is in a competitive race with current Governor Jeff Colyer, who was elevated to office after the incredibly unpopular former Governor Sam Brownback resigned to join the Trump Administration.
What’s more, Kobach is deeply unpopular — see here for a long list of Kobach-led controversies — and experts say that Kobach winning the primary could cost Kansas Republicans the Governor’s seat this fall. As one Republican insider told the Washington Post:
If Jeff Colyer is the nominee, Republicans are in good shape to hold on to the seat this fall. And if Kobach is the nominee, Republicans face an uphill battle.
The article continued:
Some Republican operatives think all the voter ID drama left Republican voters with a dislike for Kobach, marking him as someone willing to spin a factually dubious project to become a national figure…
Some private Republican polling suggests he’s very unpopular, with more than twice as many Republican voters disapproving of him as approving.
FiveThirtyEight noted, “There’s little question that Kobach is Republicans’ weakest play in the general election.”
Recent polling by Latino Decisions found that voters are tired of divisiveness and overwhelmingly support themes of unity and inclusion. But Kobach has for years been one of the national faces of xenophobia and discrimination. He has been a champion of the divide and distract strategy that has become the Trump/GOP 2018 script. Scapegoating immigrants has frequently been a losing strategy in general elections. And as support for immigration has continued to increase, Kobach may find his attacks on immigrants backfiring, especially considering that Kansas that relies heavily on immigrants for agricultural and meat packing work.
Not to mention, Kobach would come with a lot of baggage in a general election.
During the his primary campaign Kobach had three white nationalists on payroll and took money from the executive director of the parent company of a group that publishes white nationalist material.
A recent joint report by ProPublica and the Kansas City Star found that Kobach’s role in propagating anti-immigrant legislation cost four small towns a total of $9.5 million. None of the four laws were ultimately enforced, as they were all found to be unconstitutional. Kobach, however, collected more than $800,000 for his anti-immigrant work over 13 years. He was paid by the taxpayers of the small towns and by the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — an anti-immigrant organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. FAIR was founded by the white nationalist John Tanton, who believed in eugenics and racial superiority.
Kobach’s failed attacks on voting rights may also present a challenge for him. In April 2018, a federal court found Kobach in contempt for failing to fully register voters in Kansas and ordered him to pay $26,000 — which Kobach might pay with state funds, the way he did with an earlier $1,000 fee. Kobach was in court defending a voter ID law he championed, which the court found unconstitutional.
Kobach also led Trump’s now defunct voter commission, which disbanded without finding any evidence of voter tampering. As Maine’s Secretary of State and fellow commissioner Matt Dunlap said, there was a “pre-ordained outcome to this commission to demonstrate widespread voter fraud, without any evidence to back it up.”
In 2016, Trump won Kansas by 20 points, but recent local elections for state government have dramatically swung the legislature back towards the middle. A new collection of moderate Republicans and Democrats have begun to dismantle the failed tax experiment of former Governor Sam Brownback. But Kobach has campaigned on restoring the Brownback’s plan. The trend toward more moderate state government may be yet another hitch for Kobach.