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The Kansas Race For Governor Gets Crowded

Stephen Koranda
Candidates are lining up for next year's election for governor.

A year from now, Kansans could be in the middle of the biggest primary battle for governor in recent history.

With Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer poised to finish the term of Gov. Sam Brownback — likely to leave soon for an ambassador job — candidates are lining up for the 2018 contest.

Related: Who Wants To Be Kansas Governor? Candidates Lining Up For 2018 Campaign

Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty said the state has seen crowded primaries in the past, but it’s unusual to have so many high-profile candidates in one race. At least seven Republican candidates, including four with statewide political experience, are formally exploring the race.

The field could create a challenge when it comes to fundraising, Beatty said, because many of the candidates will be courting the same donors.

“I’ve been telling people that if you’re a traditional Republican political donor, you may want to go on vacation for a little bit to escape your ringing phone,” he said.

Emporia State University political scientist Michael Smith believes the field could slim if some candidates start hitting a wall on fundraising.

“If they can’t get any money they’ll probably step aside because the reality of politics is you need some money to run a statewide campaign,” Smith said.

Smith suspects Secretary of State Kris Kobach has the most name recognition right now among Republican candidates, because he’s now been attracting attention on a national stage. That’s why fundraising will be critical for others such as Colyer and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, he said.

“A lot of Kansans don’t know who the lieutenant governor is,” Smith said. “A lot of them don’t know who the insurance commissioner is. The number one challenge is just to raise enough money to advertise so people have heard your name.”

In past years, when there were clear frontrunners, Beatty said there wasn’t much incentive for candidates to participate in public debates. The 2018 race could be different.

“One thing we may see, and this is good, in my opinion, is lots and lots of forums and debates,” Beatty said.

With so many candidates, it can seem easier to keep track of who isn’t running.

Smith jokes about a button in his office reading “Not Running for Governor of California in 2003,” a reference to the crowded field in that state.

“Maybe we need to make up some for Kansas in 2018,” Smith said.

The slate of Republican candidates who have appointed treasurers includes:

  • Former state senator, and 2006 gubernatorial nominee, Jim Barnett
  • Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer
  • Wichita businessman Wink Hartman
  • Secretary of State Kris Kobach
  • Leawood businessman Patrick Kucera
  • Former state Rep. Ed O’Malley
  • Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer

The Democratic field includes:

  • Olathe physician Arden Andersen
  • Wichita high school student Jack Bergeson
  • Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer
  • Former state Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty

Others who have expressed interest or are rumored to be considering the race include:

  • Republican Senate President Susan Wagle
  • House Democratic Leader Jim Ward
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.