Topeka, Kansas—One of the toughest gubernatorial races in the United States is going on in Kansas. Incumbent Democrats take note of her track record against Republicans who are trying to link her with President Biden.
To win re-election in a state where Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden 56% to 41% in 2020, Gov. Laura Kelly is trying to recreate the voter coalition she envisioned four years ago. She is one of her four states’ Democratic governors who voted for Trump.
Her Republican opponent, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, is trying to urge conservatives in the state to vote for him as part of a broader rejection of Democrats.
Due to their different strategies, the two contenders mostly babbled at each other in what analysts considered a toss-up.
“There are two races going on,” said Bob Beattie, a political science professor at Washburn College in Topeka. Republicans want voters to think about Joe Biden.”
An Emerson College poll released in September showed Kelly leading 45% to 43%, within margin of error.
Kansas voters have shown their willingness to move away from the right this year. In August, a state constitutional amendment to end protections for abortion rights fell from his 59% to hers 41% support. This comes just over a month after the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade case.
With early voting taking place last week, Kelly attended a roundtable at a National Guard base in Topeka to discuss strategies for easing the struggles of interstate military families.
“Since my first run for governor, I have focused on specific issues, such as education and infrastructure,” she said after the event. “It’s not that I’m ignoring national issues…but I think people in Kansas want me to focus on what I can actually control.”
She has emphasized economic development projects, funding for schools, and the elimination of state sales taxes on food, which she signed into law in May after passing a Republican-controlled Congress.
Mr. Schmidt, who has heavily campaigned in rural areas, has tried to convince Republicans and moderates that the opposition is too liberal for a state of three million people.
“We have Democrat Joe Biden in the governor’s office here,” he said Friday. “It’s a philosophy…against overspending, overregulation, failure to help law enforcement, and heavy-handedness in dealing with problems.”
Schmidt has criticized Kelly for closing schools early in the pandemic and not cutting taxes further amid high inflation. In his ads, he supports tighter security at the Mexican border and pledges to oppose what he calls the transgender agenda.
He campaigned with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and posted a video showing his support from Trump.
Kelly has touted bipartisan support, including two former Republican governors. One of her in her campaign ads shows her meeting with Trump when he was president.
Others have her standing in the middle of the driveway, sipping coffee in the middle of the diner counter, declaring, “The middle is the best place.”
Mr. Schmidt is trying to connect Mr. Kerry to Mr. Biden, but he is also trying to connect Mr. Kelly with former Republican Governor Sam Brownback, who stepped down as one of the nation’s least popular governors in 2018.
In Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, which includes the politically competitive Kansas City suburb, several registered Republicans said they voted for Kelly.
“She had to negotiate to get people together. I think that’s a great skill,” said former federal manager Charles Bartlow. “All my life I’ve been looking for someone who was a patriot.”
Some Kerry supporters cited Mr. Brownback’s tax cut budget cuts as something they didn’t want to revisit.
Mike Mann, manager of a restaurant company in the city of Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas, of just under 100,000 people, said he voted for Schmidt because of the economy and because he thought Kelly should vote. said. We lifted pandemic restrictions to schools sooner.
Some voters said they supported Mr. Schmidt simply by being against abortion. “I like the governor, but I don’t like her stance on abortion, otherwise I would have voted for her,” said William Sherrill, Lawrence’s nurse. ‘s wife, Regina Sherrill, said the results of the August poll gave the couple more motivation to vote in this election.
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The outcome of the election could hinge on how many votes are cast for Dennis Pyle, an independent state senator who is considered one of Kansas’ most conservative legislators. He has his 3% support in the Emerson poll, which could reduce right-wing support for Mr. Schmidt.
Pyle told the nonprofit Kansas Reflector in August that both Kelly and Schmidt were too liberal, calling them “two beans in a pod.”
write destination Elizabeth Findell (Elizabeth.Findell@wsj.com)
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