Polls show a virtual tie in race for Kansas governor

Kansas voters remain sharply divided over who should be their next governor, with polls showing Republican Kris Kobach and Democrat Laura Kelly locked in a close race over the past several weeks.

The latest poll, conducted last week by Emerson College, shows 37 percent of respondents picking Kobach and 36 percent choosing Kelly. Emerson College also sponsored the poll, in addition to conducting it.

The polls suggest that neither Kobach, the secretary of state, nor Kelly, a state senator, have established a firm lead in the race. They also show independent Greg Orman consistently has about 9 percent support.

Still, voters don’t head to the polls for more than a month, giving campaigns plenty of time to persuade undecided voters and encourage their core supporters to vote. According to the Emerson poll, 15 percent of voters haven’t made up their mind.

Kobach will make a high-profile attempt to energize conservative voters on Saturday when President Donald Trump travels to Topeka to campaign for him and Republican congressional candidate Steve Watkins. The poll found that 55 percent of respondents approve of Trump, while 45 percent disapprove.

“I think Kobach’s looking at this race like the primary: It’s going to be really, really close and we’re going to double down on Trump, which is what he did in the primary, and get our voters out and that’s how we’re going to win,” said Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka.

Emerson, a private college in Boston, polled 938 registered voters Sept. 26-28. The poll comes with a 3.5 percent margin of error. The poll included calls to landline phones and the use of an online panel.

The poll found that 18 percent of Republicans are backing Kelly, who has touted endorsements from Republicans such as former Gov. Bill Graves.

Kelly has portrayed herself as a moderate and has consistently linked Kobach to Sam Brownback, who resigned earlier this year as one of the most unpopular governors in the country.

“There’s a reason that Laura Kelly is getting so much support from Republicans and Independents,” Kelly spokeswoman Johanna Warshaw said in a statement when asked about the Emerson poll.

“Kansans from across the political spectrum want to end the Brownback experiment and while Kris Kobach has promised to double-down on the Brownback agenda, they know that Laura will take the state in a new direction and bring Republicans and Democrats together to get it done.”

For Kobach’s part, 8 percent of Democrats are backing him, according to the poll. He has announced no similar Democratic endorsements but has gained the endorsement of a firefighters union.

In the poll, Orman had the support of 16 percent of independents, 5 percent of Democrats and 8 percent of Republicans.

The Kobach’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Another poll conducted for Crawford County Democrats just a few days before the Emerson poll put Kelly at 41 percent support and Kobach at 39 percent. Orman had 9 percent support.

The poll, conducted by Civiqs from Sept. 21 to Sept. 24, surveyed 1,178 registered voters using an online research panel. It had a margin of error of 3.4 percent.

Two polls from Public Policy Polling, a firm that works with Democrats, have both also found the race effectively tied. A September poll from PPP had Kobach at 39 percent support and Kelly at 38 percent. An earlier August poll showed the same results.

In both polls, Orman attracted 9 percent support.

“We’ve had enough polls to show a remarkably consistent pattern of essentially Kobach and Kelly tied … and Orman just consistently in that 10 percent range,” Beatty said.

In a statement, Orman said polls are more often wrong than right.

“Polls can create a predetermined outcome simply by oversampling Democrats or over sampling Republicans or in recent polls in Kansas, severely under sampling Independent voters,” Orman said. “I feel good about my campaign. (Running mate) John Doll and I are seeing increasing momentum and positive engagement from voters.”

Emerson also polled the state’s congressional races, but the polls have significantly larger margins of error at 6.4 or 6.8 percent.

The results:

  • In the First District, Republican Rep. Roger Marshall leads Democrat Alan LaPolice, 44 percent to 17 percent, with 35 percent undecided.

  • In the Second District, Democrat Paul Davis leads Republican Steve Watkins, 35 percent to 31 percent, with 28 percent undecided.

  • In the Third District, Democrat Sharice Davids leads Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, 47 percent to 41 percent, with 10 percent undecided.

  • In the Fourth District, Republican Rep. Ron Estes leads Democrat James Thomspon, 50 percent to 26 percent, with 20 percent undecided.