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Nearly a third of GOP voters in Kansas are undecided in tight race for governor

Kansas governor candidates debate in Atchison

Gov. Jeff Colyer faced attacks by Secretary of State Kris Kobach at a debate in Atchison on April 13, 2018.
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Gov. Jeff Colyer faced attacks by Secretary of State Kris Kobach at a debate in Atchison on April 13, 2018.

Roughly four months after Jeff Colyer became Kansas' governor, nearly half of likely Republican primary voters have no opinion about him, according to a new poll.

Colyer, an Overland Park plastic surgeon who succeeded Sam Brownback as the state’s top executive in late January, held a lead within the margin of error over Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in a poll of Republican candidates that was conducted by Remington Research Group, a GOP polling firm based in Kansas City.

But nearly a third of Republican voters — a plurality of 30 percent — were undecided about which candidate should be the GOP nominee for governor when the party holds its primary in August.

Colyer found support from 29 percent of the poll’s respondents, while Kobach drew 27 percent. Colyer’s lead falls within the margin of error of plus or minus 2.58 percentage points.

“All the polling data confirms this primary is a two-person race,” said Kendall Marr, the governor’s spokesman.

“Governor Colyer is a positive, competent and conservative Republican Governor. That’s exactly what Kansas Republicans are looking for this August,” Marr said in a text message.

The poll comes at a time when Kobach is reshuffling his campaign staff and shortly after he was held in contempt by a federal judge.

Kobach’s spokeswoman, Danedri Herbert, said in an email that Kobach “isn't basing his campaign on what the polls say,” but she also noted the poll differs from others the campaign has seen.

“We just completed a western Kansas tour where we met with voters one-on-one. They're responding well to Kobach's message of consistent conservatism. Once voters realize the tax-and-spend policies of the Colyer administration, many of those undecideds will come our way,” Herbert said.

The survey of 1,441 likely voters was conducted May 14 and May 15. The data was weighted to match expected demographic turnout for the primary and comes with a 95 percent level of confidence.

The remaining vote was split between former state Sen. Jim Barnett and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, who both polled in the single digits.

Barnett, the party’s 2006 nominee, received support from 9 percent of respondents. Selzer drew 5 percent.

The poll found that 38 percent of GOP voters had a favorable view of Colyer, compared to only 13 percent with an unfavorable view. But the governor remains largely undefined for Republican voters, with 49 percent of respondents saying they had no opinion of Colyer.

Kobach, a conservative firebrand and regular guest on cable news, was viewed favorably by 41 percent of respondents. But he was viewed unfavorably by 35 percent, which is significantly higher than Colyer's number.

Large majorities of GOP voters — 73 and 75 percent respectively — had no opinion of Barnett and Selzer.

Remington, the firm that conducted the poll, is owned by Axiom Strategies.

Travis Smith, a senior vice president of Axiom, has consulted for Colyer’s campaign. However, he said that work is separate from Remington and the poll was not paid for by any of the campaigns.

But Selzer’s campaign pointed to the connection when dismissing the significance of the poll, which has Selzer trailing all other candidates.

“Axiom supports Colyer,” said Lindsay Preisinger, the spokeswoman for Selzer’s campaign. “Our internal polling has Ken significantly higher and when Republican voters learn of Selzer’s positions and philosophies, he takes the lead over Colyer or Kobach. ... We don’t have any concerns about closing the gap.”

Preisinger said Selzer had no plans to reconsider his run for governor to pursue another term as insurance commissioner ahead of the June 1 filing deadline.

“That account has already been closed,” she said of his insurance commissioner campaign.

Barnett, on the other hand, was happy with the poll’s results.

“I’m pleased that we’re gradually coming up in numbers and I think it’s where I would expect to be right now when you have someone with such high name recognition as Kris Kobach in the field,” he said.

The poll was weighted heavily toward older voters, with 84 percent of the respondents age 50 or older. Smith said this was consistent with GOP primary turnout going back to 2010 and that he had no reason “to expect deviation from the norm this year.”