Government & Politics

Colyer, Kobach deadlocked in race for Kansas governor, new poll shows

Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach are neck and neck in a new poll in the Kansas governor’s race.
Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach are neck and neck in a new poll in the Kansas governor’s race.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach are deadlocked in the race for the GOP nomination for governor as Republicans prepare for their state convention this weekend, according to a new poll.

Colyer, a Johnson County plastic surgeon, officially took the oath as the state’s 47th governor at the end of January when his predecessor Sam Brownback resigned to take a post in President Donald Trump’s administration.

But whether Colyer gets more than 11 months in office depends on whether he can triumph in the crowded GOP primary this August.

He holds a lead within the margin of error, according a new poll from the Kansas City-based Remington Research Group, a GOP-leaning firm.

Colyer had support from 23 percent of respondents; Kobach was the preferred candidate of 21 percent.

Both men will be in the spotlight this weekend when Kansas Republicans gather in Wichita for their annual state convention roughly six months ahead of the primary vote.

A plurality of GOP voters said they were undecided, with 37 percent of respondents unable to choose a preferred candidate from the list of options.

The poll of 1,806 likely Republican voters was conducted on Feb. 13 and 14. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points with a level of confidence of 95 percent.

Every other candidate in the race was in single digits: former Sen. Jim Barnett, the party’s 2006 nominee, netted 8 percent; Wichita businessman Wink Hartman received 5 percent; and former state Rep. Mark Hutton and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer each received 3 percent.

“I think my basic takeaway from it is you can clearly identify who the top two candidates are,” said Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas who studies polling data. “You have the potential for a competitive race. ... No one has an incredible amount of support.”

Miller cautioned that primary polling tends to be more volatile than general election polling. He also noted that the results of the poll are weighted based on the pollster’s assumptions about what the primary electorate will look like, which could have an impact on the results.

The poll also shows that half of GOP voters have no opinion of Colyer, who is in his first month in the state’s top job. A little more than a third, 36 percent, had a favorable view of Colyer, while the remaining 14 percent had an unfavorable view.

Jeff Colyer, a Johnson County surgeon, is sworn in as the 47th Governor of Kansas in a ceremony in the Topeka statehouse Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018.

Miller said that many people in Kansas are not plugged into politics and that he sometimes meets people who don’t realize that Brownback is no longer governor. Voters will form their view of the new governor in the coming months, he said, and Colyer’s favorability numbers have the potential to shift in either direction.

Colyer’s team did not find the results significant.

“There will be plenty of time for analyzing polls later. Right now Dr. Colyer is focused on listening to Kansans and hearing their ideas on how to move our state forward,” said Kendall Marr, Colyer’s spokesman, in an email.

Kobach, a fixture on cable news, splits voters with 42 percent holding a favorable view compared to 35 percent with an unfavorable view. The rest were undecided.

Kobach’s campaign dismissed the poll results.

“This poll result is inconsistent with every other poll that we are aware of,” said Samantha Poetter, his campaign spokeswoman, in an email.

“We are pleased with the overwhelming support reflected in other polls. Regardless, Secretary Kobach’s campaign is not driven to win polls,” she said. “It's driven by the conservative principles that are at the center of his message to Kansas voters.”

The poll also shows that nearly a third of GOP voters, 29 percent, have an unfavorable view of Trump, with whom Kobach has been closely associated since 2016. A majority of 63 percent had a favorable view of the president.

Miller noted that the poll comes shortly after a story published in The Star about Kobach’s advisory role with a veterans group that spends little money on veterans’ issues, which could have a negative effect on his polling.

The poll comes a little more than a month after Trump’s decision to disband a presidential commission on voter fraud that had been led by Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3