Leading voter-suppression warrior is running to become Kansas’ next GOP governor

KS-Gov: On Thursday, Republican Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced he would run for governor to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback in 2018. Since taking office after ousting an appointed Democratic incumbent in the 2010 GOP wave election, Kobach has used his position as the Sunflower State’s chief elections administrator to become one of America’s foremost crusaders for restrictive voting laws.

Under his advocacy, Kansas passed a burdensome proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration. This law would have effectively made voter registration drives next to impossible, since few people carry around documents like a birth certificate day-to-day, and some citizens don’t have easy access to such documents. Kansas had suspended one in seven new voter registrations since 2013 under this system, but a federal court ruled that it violated federal law when it blocked a key component of it in 2016. Kobach convinced the legislature to make him the only state secretary of state with the power to prosecute voter fraud, but he has only successfully prosecuted one non-citizen voter, demonstrating just how extremely rare such fraud is.

Not only has Kobach been a leading opponent of voting rights in Kansas, his proposals have influenced Republicans around the country. Shortly after Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, Kobach was seen meeting Trump in D.C. while carrying documents that outlined proposed changes to federal voting laws. Following a lawsuit, a court ordered him to turn over those documents last month. Trump was most recently named Kobach as the vice chair of his “voting integrity” commission, a thinly veiled witch hunt effort that Democrats and voting rights advocates have widely condemned.

Kobach is almost equally notorious as one of the country’s biggest immigration opponent hardliners, having been a key force behind Arizona’s infamous SB-1070 law in 2010. That statute required law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone they suspected of being in the country without authorization, which was tantamount to legalized racial profiling. Just like his voting restrictions, core parts of that law were also struck down in court. Subsequently, Kobach supports many of Trump’s immigration policies, such as building a border wall with Mexico.

Over his two terms as governor, Brownback had pursued a radical conservative agenda of unaffordable tax cuts for the wealthy that busted the state’s budget, forcing a crisis that led to harshly unpopular cuts to services. He barely won re-election in the 2014 GOP wave, and after hardline Republican legislative candidates suffered severe losses in primaries and even the general election in 2016, Kansas’ state legislature finally overrode Brownback’s veto on Tuesday to enact a major series of tax increases.

While Kobach could be tough to defeat in this historically dark-red state if he wins the GOP nomination, his steadfast support for Brownback’s fiscal policies every step of the way could consequently give Democrats a major opening against him in 2018. His nomination isn’t guaranteed though, since Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer is also thinking about running, and a handful of other major Kansas Republicans previously haven’t ruled it out.


MI-Gov: On Thursday, businessman Shri Thanedar announced that he would join the Democratic primary. Thanedar said that he hopes to raise money online and through small events across the state, and he will self-fund the rest of his campaign account (though it’s not clear how big of a budget he envisions). Thanedar almost certainly starts the contest with little name recognition, but he does have an interesting story to tell.

Thanedar, who grew up in poverty in India, moved to the United States for graduate school and made a fortune in Missouri after buying a small chemical testing laboratory. However, Thanedar launched a risky and expensive expansion project at the exact wrong time, and the Great Recession devastated him and his company. Thanedar moved to Michigan in 2010 and founded a new company in Ann Arbor, which did well. In fact, Thanedar also earned some local headlines late last year when he gave his employees a collective $1.5 million bonus; Thanedar is no longer its CEO after selling off his majority share late last year. Thanedar will face ex-state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and ex-Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed in the primary, while a few other Democrats are also eyeing this contest.

NH-Gov: A few Democrats have made noises about challenging freshman GOP Gov. Chris Sununu next year, and we can add another name to the list. WMUR says that state Sen. Dan Feltes is being encouraged to run, and Feltes is not ruling it out. Feltes only says that he and his wife “have made zero decisions on the 2018 election cycle, and it’s not anything I’m giving attention to in the heart of the legislative session.”

SC-Gov: Republican Henry McMaster, who was promoted from lieutenant governor to governor after Nikki Haley became U.N. ambassador, is already facing a serious primary challenge from ex-state Department of Health and Environmental Control chief Catherine Templeton, while ex-state Sen. Yancy McGill (a former Democrat who briefly served as lieutenant governor in 2014) is also running an underfunded bid. Other South Carolina Republicans are also talking about getting in. State Sen. Tom Davis, a former aide to then-Gov. Mark Sanford, says tells The State that he’ll decide by Labor Day. Millionaire Joe Taylor, a former state commerce secretary, previously said he’d decide in June, and The State says he’s “spending time with family this month weighing whether to run.”

A few other Republicans may also get in. State Sen. Katrina Shealy expressed interest last month, while Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant did not rule it out. However, Bryant doesn’t sound like he’s chomping at the bit to jump in. Bryant told The State that he “could be somebody’s running mate,” or “I could not be elected for anything.” State House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, who lost a tight GOP primary for the state’s 5th Congressional District last month, says he’s not planning to run for governor, but he explicitly didn’t rule it out. Still, Pope said his failed congressional campaign showed him how tough a statewide run would be, so he doesn’t sound very likely to get in. South Carolina requires a primary runoff if no one takes a majority.

On the Democratic side, the only potential candidate who has shown much interest so far is state Rep. James Smith, a veteran of Afghanistan. However, ex-state Rep. Bakari Sellers, who lost the 2014 lieutenant governor race to McMaster 59-41, sounds a lot more interested in running than he did a few months ago. Sellers, who currently works as a CNN commentator, tells The State that he is considering, but won’t decide before the fall.

State Sen. Brad Hutto, who lost a 2014 Senate race to Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham 54-39, isn’t ruling out a gubernatorial bid of his own, saying he “won’t shut the door on anything, but that’s not my plan right now.” The paper also says that state Rep. Mandy Powers and state Sens. Thomas McElveen and Marlon Kimpson all say they’re leaning against running. Democrats haven’t had much luck statewide in a long time, but an ongoing corruption scandal involving some longtime McMaster allies could give them an opening.

VA-Gov: Democrat Tom Perriello’s latest ad sees him speaking straight to the camera to talk about how “Virginia was born out of a struggle against tyranny,” arguing that he’ll help channel the enthusiasm for resistance to Trump into thwarting his agenda and making Virginia better. Meanwhile, fellow Democrat Ralph Northam’s latest ad features his endorsements from practically the entire spectrum of the state party establishment. The spot plays up his background as a doctor to note how he’ll fight for affordable health care and closes by promising to stand up to Trump’s hate.


GA-06: What can we even say anymore? Jon Ossoff has simply destroyed all prior fundraising records so badly that the records of those records all burned in a fire and we don’t even know what the records are anymore. He’s raised $15 million in the last two months, with an average donation of just $20—and that’s on top of the already-bonkers $8 million he raised prior to April 1. These are the kinds of sums you’d expect in a competitive Senate race … over the course of an entire election cycle. Both candidates had until 12 AM ET on Friday to file their fundraising reports with the FEC (after the Digest was already filed on Thursdayevening), so we weren’t able to report Republican Karen Handel’s haul yet, but it’s safe to say it’s much smaller.

Handel’s allies have been desperately trying to make up the gap for her, and “desperate” really is the right word. The NRCC’s latest spot is so wildly over the top you know they can’t be feeling good. It features the same clips of idiot black bloc anarchists smashing up D.C. that we’ve seen many times while a narrator repeatedly hollers for viewers to vote against Jon Ossoff and the “childish radicals.” Oh, and it also contains extended footage of Kathy Griffin holding aloft her stupid fake Trump head—the same bit that Republicans have whined is oh-so-harmful to our children. Of course, they have no problem exposing kids to it if they think it’ll help them win.

GA-07: Republicans have held this suburban Atlanta seat, which contains most of Gwinnett County, for decades, and Republican Rep. Rob Woodall won a fourth term last cycle without any trouble. However, this affluent and well-educated seat swung quite a bit to the left last year, going from 60-38 Romney to 51-45 Trump, and it may be worth keeping an eye on next year. Democrat David Kim, who founded the national test prep company C2 Education, jumped in this week. Kim’s company has 180 tutoring stations nationwide, so he may have the connections or personal wealth necessary to run a serious race here.

ID-01: While ex-state Schools Superintendent Tom Luna initially expressed interest in joining the GOP primary for this very red seat, he announced on Wednesday that he wouldn’t run. The only notable declared candidate remains attorney David Leroy, a former lieutenant governor who lost a very tight 1986 gubernatorial general election, though others are considering.

NY-21: Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik won a 65-30 landslide re-election in 2016 as her North Country congressional seat veered sharply from 52-46 Obama to 54-40 Trump, but some Democrats aren’t deterred from looking at a 2018 run. Businesswoman Tedra Cobb, who served eight years in the St. Lawrence County Legislature until 2010, says that she’s “testing the waters” regarding a potential bid. Many parts of this district hadn’t elected a Democrat since before the Civil War until Team Blue won it in 2009, and it’ll be a steep hill to climb in 2018. However, if Trumpcare proves to be a major liability for congressional Republicans, Democrats might be able to put this disproportionately white working-class Obama-Trump seat into play once more.

PA-07: Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach has been considering running for the grotesquely misshapen 7th District in Philadelphia’s western suburbs, and he inched closer to jumping into the race by announcing on Thursday that he had reached a decision and would reveal his plans at an early July event. The stalwart progressive previously lost the Democratic primary for the nearby 13th District when it was open in 2014, but he actually lives in the incredibly gerrymandered 7th.

Attorney Dan Muroff, realtor Elizabeth Moro, bioengineer Molly Sheehan, and a few other Democrats are already running here. Nevertheless, none of them has the experience in office or proven fundraising capacity that Leach has, and a few of them don’t even hail from the 7th District. However, Leach’s outspoken views could be a liability when running against entrenched GOP Rep. Pat Meehan in this swingy seat, which flipped from 50-48 Romney to 49-47 Clinton.

Other Races

VA-LG: On Tuesday, both parties will hold their primaries for lieutenant governor of Virginia, and the stakes are big. The GOP holds a small 21-19 majority in the state Senate, and the chamber will be up again in 2019. If Democrats can net just one district that year (or somehow take a seat before then in a special election or through a party switch), it will be up to the new lieutenant governor to break the tie and decide which party controls the chamber. This post is also a good launching pad for higher office: Aside from attorney general, Virginia doesn’t have any other statewide elected offices besides governor and U.S. senator.

On the Democratic side, former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax is the clear frontrunner in the money race. Fairfax, who lost the 2013 primary for attorney general to eventual winner Mark Herring 52-48, raised $376,000 from April 1 to June 1, spent $410,000, and had $112,000 left. Susan Platt, who served as Joe Biden’s chief of staff in the Senate in the 1990s, brought in a smaller $100,000 during this time, spent $141,000, and had $57,000 in the bank. Gene Rossi, another former federal prosecutor, brought up the rear. Rossi raised just $49,000, spent $63,000, and had $48,000 on-hand.

The Democratic primary has been a quiet contest, but the GOP race is something else. For months, state Sen. Bryce Reeves has been accusing primary rival and fellow state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel of sending out an email under a pseudonym insinuating that he had an affair with a campaign staffer. Vogel has denied it, but subpoenaed records link those messages to Vogel’s home IP address and to her husband’s phone; Vogel argues that her family was hacked. Reeves has filed a defamation lawsuit, and there will be a hearing on Friday, days before Election Day.

But if you were feeling any sympathy for Reeves, don’t. Reeves recently sent out a mailer attacking Vogel for voting “to approve the first openly gay judge in the Commonwealth” and blasting her as the “only Republican to vote for special rights for gays and transgenders.” A third Republican, Del. Glenn Davis Jr., is running and hasn’t attracted much fire from his opponents.

We have seen virtually no polling, so we don’t have a good idea for how voters are reacting to this ugly race. But at the very least, Vogel has spent more money to get her message out than her rivals. From April 1 to June 1, Vogel raised $449,000, spent $950,000, and had $47,000 left. During that period, Reeves raised $312,000 and spent $567,000, and he had $188,000 left. Davis raised just $104,000, spent $99,000, and had $36,000 left.

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.

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