Gov. Kris Kobach.”
That’s what a lot of people were muttering this week when news broke of Greg Orman’s interest in running for Kansas governor as an independent.
Orman’s entry is seen as practically handing the governor’s race to the intensely controversial Kobach, who would run the state the same way that President Donald Trump runs the country.
The political calculus looks like this:
Kobach, the secretary of state, is a heavy favorite to win the GOP nomination, thanks to an eight-candidate primary field (not counting high schoolers) and his towering name ID. Controversial though he is, Kobach is thought to be almost guaranteed 30-35 percent GOP support. That would surely put him on top.
In the general election, his GOP credentials in a Republican state would get him to 40 percent before the race even begins. (The latest voter registration figures have 45 percent of Kansas voters registered as Republican, 24 percent as Democratic and 31 percent as independent).
Orman and the Democrat would split the remaining vote, giving Kobach an easy plurality and a job promotion.
Say it again: Gov. Kris Kobach.
The last two times a Democrat won the office in 2002 and 2006, largely unknown GOP contenders Tim Shallenburger and Jim Barnett received 45 percent and 40 percent, respectively. So, 38-40 percent for Kobach is a reasonable floor. Democrats understand this math. On Wednesday, the day Orman announced, Democrats went on the attack, accusing him of getting in because he has “a big ego.”
Kobach seemed giddy: “Come on in, the more the merrier.” Asked if he thought Orman would hurt the Democrats, he danced. “It seems that the Democrats believe that to be true,” he said.
Orman is no dummy. A successful businessman, he appeared headed to the U.S. Senate in 2014 until national Republicans rescued incumbent Pat Roberts. Orman’s a data-driven guy who surely has poll numbers showing a path to victory.
But you have to wonder how wide that path is. In 2014, he had the opportunity of a lifetime. He was facing Roberts one-on-one after the Democrat dropped out. Even then, Orman faded, and Roberts won 53-42 percent.
Political scientists know that while many people say they’re independent and fed up with the two major parties, most still tilt to the Republican or Democratic side. Getting them to leave their political moorings is tough.
You need a candidate with zeal and charisma and a rallying cause. Orman offers some of that, but his new campaign website that proclaims his commitment to real leadership and government transparency and the need to grow the economy isn’t new or fresh. It’s a cliche that won’t generate an ounce of adrenaline.
I covered Orman’s “victory party” that wasn’t to be on election night in 2014. The crowd was small. I didn’t recognize anyone, and the room had absolutely no energy. And this for a man some thought was on the brink of staging the biggest upset in Kansas history.
That’s the challenge for independents. With no natural base, they have to carve one from scratch. Orman and the Democrats face a stark decision: They must decide who’s best suited to challenge Kobach and pick one. The best chance for a Kobach-less Kansas is a one-on-one race.
Either that, or Greg Orman may one day be remembered as Kansas’ Ralph Nader.