Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly won reelection against Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt in Kansas.
Kelly led Schmidt 49% to 48% early Wednesday after all precincts had reported. Kelly won the state’s two largest counties — Johnson and Sedgwick — even as counting continued in rural areas more favorable to Schmidt. He trailed Kelly by less than 15,000 votes early Wednesday.
Kelly’s victory means Democrats can block some of the more conservative bills passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature — particularly efforts to further restrict abortion. The state’s voters rejected a constitutional amendment in August that would have made a ban possible, but conservative lawmakers still could have tested just how far the state’s courts would allow regulations to make abortions more difficult to obtain in the state.
Kelly argued she led the state out of a budget crisis that followed the tax cuts and government service rollbacks pushed through by her Republican predecessors, Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer.
She presented herself as a middle-of-the-road moderate and a business-friendly leader who lured Panasonic’s $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant to the state.
But Schmidt blamed her for inflation and painted her as a liberal in step with President Joe Biden. He argued Kelly should have done more to make life for Kansans more affordable, like cutting more taxes.
Independent Dennis Pyle, a conservative state senator who left the Republican Party and who painted both Schmidt and Kelly as too liberal, had 2% of the vote — more than 19,000 votes that could prove crucial to the outcome of the razor-thin contest. Kuckelman said he was frustrated by votes Pyle had seemingly pulled away from Schmidt.
“Pyle was always just a spoiler. Pyle has never had a clear path to victory,” Kuckelman said. “That’s disappointing because it can really affect an outcome.”
Kelly’s move to focus heavily on kitchen-table issues largely mimicked her approach from four years ago, when she defeated Republican Kris Kobach by branding herself as someone who would work across the aisle and prioritize the economy and education. Her ads during the race focused heavily on how she had done just that during her four years in office.
Schmidt, for his part, had in recent weeks leaned in heavily on education, attacking Kelly for pandemic-related school closings and for allowing transgender students to participate in school sports. Kelly has vetoed two bills that would have banned transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports in school and college.
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