Steve Rose

How independent Greg Orman could help elect Kris Kobach Kansas governor

If Greg Orman runs for Kansas governor as an independent, he will siphon off votes from the Democrat and ultimately will help the Republican candidate. Why would a smart guy like Orman want to elect Kris Kobach governor?
If Greg Orman runs for Kansas governor as an independent, he will siphon off votes from the Democrat and ultimately will help the Republican candidate. Why would a smart guy like Orman want to elect Kris Kobach governor? The Wichita Eagle

Why would a smart guy like Greg Orman want to elect villain Kris Kobach governor of Kansas? That’s what he appears poised to do.

Orman, a multimillionaire businessman from Olathe, has all but announced his intention to run as an independent for governor in next year’s general election. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, has announced he is running for governor, along with a flock of Republican candidates all vying for the same job. Currently, according to most pundits, Kobach is the favorite to win next year’s Republican primary in August. If somehow Kobach does not win the primary, then it is just as predictable that Orman will help elect whichever Republican nabs the nomination.

Orman, 49, apparently got a taste for politics when he ran unsuccessfully in 2014 for the U.S. Senate as an independent against Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts. In an unusual twist, the Democrat dropped out of the race to make it a one-on-one match-up between the two. But Roberts, who appeared to be lacking a real residence in Kansas, still trounced Orman 53 to 42 percent. Orman did well in the urban areas but got clobbered in rural Kansas.

This time around, the Democratic candidate would not drop out. So, if Orman jumps in, there would be a three-way race next November.

In that case, the Democrat is toast. Orman will take the vast majority of his votes from the Democratic candidate, splintering that vote, thus allowing the Republican to prance to the finish line without hardly taking a breath. I don’t believe enough Democrats and moderate Republicans will switch to Orman, dooming his chance for victory.

Orman is similar to a Democrat on key social issues, including his pro-choice position on abortion and his support for granting amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants. Orman is bright and likable, and he would be attractive to lots of Democrats, particularly since no Democratic candidate is an overwhelming favorite.

I have made the case before as to why I think Kobach will be the Republican nominee. He is viewed as the real conservative whose solid base will sweep him to victory in the primary, with all the other Republican voters fragmenting their support in all directions.

In an unscientific survey after a recent speech to an organization of conservatives from Johnson County, I asked how many of the couple dozen attendees would support Kobach in the primary, and nearly every hand went up.

Orman surely has paid for extensive polling. He undoubtedly has discovered that Kobach may be the leading contender among Republican candidates, but the secretary of state is very unpopular among all Kansas voters. That came through loud and clear in a poll conducted by Fort Hays State University.

So, Orman probably figures he can beat Kobach by grabbing enough Democrats and moderate Republicans to sweep him to victory over an unpopular Kobach.

This is a bit of self-delusion and wishful thinking. A never-elected businessman without a major party label would get crushed by a bona fide Republican candidate, even Kobach. The Democrat would probably come in third, although many Democrats would go down with the ship to vote for their party’s candidate.

Orman is an attractive candidate, no doubt. And he certainly has the ability to self-fund an expensive, multimillion-dollar campaign. Orman does have a following, particularly in Johnson County. If he were running as a Democrat, I think he might win the nomination and then win the governor’s seat, particularly if Kobach were his opponent.

But I believe a third-party candidacy is the kiss of death in Kansas. Even with some moderate Republican support and some Democratic votes, I still think the math is not on Orman’s side. He would lose and, at the same time, would drag down the Democrat. In a three-way race among a Democrat, a sort-of Democrat and a staunch Republican, almost any Republican would prevail, including Kobach.