Steve Rose

Here’s how Greg Orman and Laura Kelly could derail Kris Kobach’s bid for governor

Independent Kansas gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman
Independent Kansas gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman The Wichita Eagle

While all eyes were riveted on the Republican blood match for Kansas governor between Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Gov. Jeff Colyer, which Kobach narrowly won, Democratic nominee Laura Kelly was glancing over her shoulder. There she sees an opponent who may have more to do with whether she becomes governor than Kobach.

That haunting image is Greg Orman, the wealthy independent candidate from Johnson County who also filed for governor and who threatens in a three-way race to make it much more difficult — if not impossible — for Kelly to win. His presence could virtually hand the governorship to Kobach. I say to Orman — and to Kelly — consider the gauntlet I throw down. The stakes are too high not to pull out all the stops as soon as possible. Colyer just conceded victory to Kobach, avoiding recounts and prolonged litigation that could have weakened the Republican position. But back to the gauntlet in a moment.

When Orman decided to enter this race, his master plan almost certainly included Kobach. Orman knows that while Kobach has enough loyal followers to capture the Republican nomination, he may find a tougher challenge in the November election. Kobach is very unpopular with a large segment of voters, including many Republicans who say they would never vote for him. But disenchanted Republicans also might not be able to bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. Orman could pick up some of those votes, but he still would be a long way from a third-party victory.

I don’t believe it was in Orman’s playbook to find himself facing such a formidable Democratic candidate as Kelly. He may have expected a bloody Democratic primary with a weakened nominee. Kelly easily vanquished her two viable opponents, earning more than 50 percent of the vote. Kelly shocked many with her decisive victory. Although Orman could still pick up some Democrats willing to back an independent, he wouldn’t get many, even though he shares many of their social values. Still, every vote taken from Kelly hurts when Democrats are already outnumbered by Republicans in Kansas.

Orman no doubt assumes he will pick up vast numbers of unaffiliated voters with allegiance to neither party. And he would. That certainly would hurt Kelly, perhaps fatally. By fragmenting that unaffiliated vote, it likely dooms both candidates to failure.

Orman must be the first to admit three-way races can be toxic. Four years ago, he convinced the Democrats to drop their candidate from the ballot, allowing Orman to go mano a mano against a weak Sen. Pat Roberts. But even in a two-way race, Orman was no match for the incumbent. Roberts won handily. Orman must think the gubernatorial race will be very different, that he somehow would weaken each major party enough to eke out a win in a three-way race. This is delusional.

Poor Laura Kelly. What more could a Democratic candidate for Kansas governor ask for than a nail-biter match between two Republican warriors?

I believe Kobach is likely to garner no more than 40 percent of the statewide vote, which still could allow him to win with a plurality. If Orman and Kelly split up the remaining 60 percent, all Orman needs to garner is 21 percent of the vote to make it mathematically impossible for Kelly to win. Her battle has never looked more daunting.

Therefore, I will throw down this gauntlet for Orman and Kelly to seriously consider: If by Oct. 6 — one month before the Nov. 6 general election — either candidate finds himself or herself at least 10 points behind the other in reputable polls, the one who is behind should withdraw and throw total support to the other. Although it would be too late to change the ballot itself, the word would spread that the troops should galvanize around one candidate to face Kobach.

Make no mistake. The stakes could not be higher.

This is a stop-Kobach proposal that would hopefully derail the controversial Republican’s march to the governor’s seat and halt progress toward his real goal — the presidency of the United States.