Government & Politics

Kobach will consider former GOP rival, who just ended campaign, as running mate

Wichita businessman Wink Hartman (right) is dropping out of the race for Kansas governor and endorsing Kris Kobach (second from left). Ken Selzer (left) and Mark Hutton (third from left) are also seeking the GOP nomination.
Wichita businessman Wink Hartman (right) is dropping out of the race for Kansas governor and endorsing Kris Kobach (second from left). Ken Selzer (left) and Mark Hutton (third from left) are also seeking the GOP nomination.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will consider Wink Hartman as a potential running mate now that the Wichita businessman has suspended his campaign for governor and endorsed Kobach’s candidacy.

Hartman, a Wichita oil magnate, had devoted significant resources into his campaign for the state’s top elected office, lending his campaign more than $1.6 million last year, before announcing his decision Wednesday to drop out of the race.

The decision comes four days after Kobach and Hartman shared a debate stage in Wichita at last weekend’s Kansas GOP convention.

“I listened to the other candidates and I quickly came to the conclusion that I could be the spoiler in this race for the conservative values we hold so dear,” Hartman said in an announcement to supporters. “I’ve always said this race isn’t about me or my resume — it’s about taking our conservative platform and making it into policy to improve the lives of all Kansans.”

Kobach confirmed Wednesday that he will consider Hartman as a potential running mate.

“We haven’t yet made any decision on a running mate, but this obviously is a big development that will affect that decision,” Kobach said. “I would need to sit down with Mr. Hartman to talk through some things, but I’m excited to have him on the team.

“This all happening pretty quickly. I’m just really thrilled that someone with his experiences has decided to endorse my campaign.”

Kobach said Hartman’s exit will allow him to consolidate support among conservatives. Kobach, long perceived as the race’s front runner, trailed Gov. Jeff Colyer by two percentage points in a poll released last week by Remington Research Group.

Kobach said his campaign has conducted a poll that gives him a seven-point lead over Colyer, who is in his first month as governor, but agreed that it is a single-digit race between the two Republicans.

Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, said on Twitter that Hartman’s exit may not have a major effect on the race in the short term but that as August approaches it means there will be “one less conservative candidate to split conservative primary voters.”

Hartman had previously accused Kobach of failing to focus on his duties as secretary of state amid a slew of extracurricular activities, including his work on a presidential commission.

“He’s not doing his current job, he’s not going to do his next job, and he keeps auditioning for new positions wherever he can find them,” Hartman said in August. “The next governor needs to be focused on creating good paying jobs and solving Topeka’s budget problems, not climbing the political ladder. Kansans are fed up with career politicians watching out for themselves instead of the people.”

But in his endorsement announcement Wednesday, Hartman blamed the media for criticism of Kobach.

“The Kris Kobach that I now know is not the Kris Kobach that is maligned by liberal Kansas media,” Hartman said in the announcement. “He is a fighter, and for that he takes a lot of arrows, but he does not back down from the fight for our principles.”

Hartman and Kobach were complimentary toward each other during last weekend’s GOP debate. Colyer withdrew at the last minute, citing illness.

When asked whether he is interested in being lieutenant governor, Hartman said in a phone call that at this point no offer is on the table.

The 2018 campaign for Kansas governor is producing a large amount of candidates. Here are the Republican, Democratic, and Independent candidates

“I will support Kris in any way and any shape that I can,” Hartman said. “If he calls on me, I’m willing to serve and help. Whatever I can do.”

He later added that there’s “a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done from leadership in Topeka. And to date, it’s been a complete failure.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw