Government & Politics

GOP stalwart Nancy Kassebaum picks Democrat Laura Kelly over Kris Kobach

A titan of Kansas Republican politics is shunning Kris Kobach, her party’s nominee, in his run for governor.

Nancy Kassebaum, who represented Kansas for three terms in the U.S. Senate, said Tuesday she will support Democratic State Sen. Laura Kelly’s campaign.

Kassebaum joins former GOP governor Bill Graves, who announced earlier this month that he would also be supporting Kelly.

“I’m a Republican, but that doesn’t mean you walk lock step always with the party,” she said.

Kelly is facing Kobach, the Republican secretary of state, and independent Greg Orman in the November election.

“It seems to me that Kobach has developed a record that shows a focus on ways and how to accomplish his end goals that I think are not the best for Kansas,” Kassebaum said.

Kobach’s campaign cast doubt on Kassebaum’s Republican credentials following the announcement.

“Democrats trot out these same tired has-beens clinging to the past, pretending to be Republicans when they so clearly left the party a long time ago,” Kobach spokeswoman Danedri Herbert said in an email. “Pro-abortion? Check. Anti-gun? Check. Pro-Obamacare? Check. Republican? Yeah, right.”

Kassebaum has deep ties to the Kansas GOP. Her father, Alf Landon, was a Republican governor of the state who famously failed in his effort to beat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during a Great Depression-era presidential election.

She has remained active since leaving the U.S. Senate, but said she did not publicly take a stand on any candidate in the 2014 race for governor. Her son, William Kassebaum, worked as the campaign treasurer for Democrat Paul Davis’s run for governor in 2014.

Kelly’s campaign has made a point in recent weeks of showing that centrist Republicans are supporting her. More than two dozen announced their support for Kelly last week, including Sheila Frahm, a former U.S. senator and lieutenant governor in Kansas.

“I felt her experience, 18 years in the Kansas Legislature... has given her a real understanding of what it takes to work across the aisle,” Kassebaum said.