WICHITA, Kan. (Reuters) - Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a staunch ally of Republican President Donald Trump, is locked in a tight race with state Senator Laura Kelly that could see the state elect its first Democratic governor in eight years, a Reuters poll found.
The Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics opinion poll published on Wednesday found that Kelly had the support of 43 percent of likely voters, with Kobach backed by 41 percent, and independent Greg Orman a distant third with 9 percent support.
The governor’s race is shaping up as a referendum on Trump, who Kobach has advised on immigration and voting restrictions, as well as the state’s prior governor, Sam Brownback, whose deep tax cuts left the state in a budget crisis.
“Our state has been suffering in a whole lot of ways, including reputationally,” Kelly told Democrats in Dodge City in western Kansas last week. “What in the world are we thinking when we want to close our borders to families who want to come here? You cannot attract business to your state if you proceed like that.”
Kelly has labeled Kobach “Brownback on steroids,” and tried to link him to the two-term governor whose leadership led to huge state budget cutbacks for education, roads and other services. Kobach has pledged to cut taxes again but be more aggressive than Brownback at controlling spending.
Brownback left office earlier this year to become Trump’s ambassador for religious freedom. Kobach narrowly beat Governor Jeff Colyer, the former lieutenant governor who took over when Brownback resigned, by 343 votes in the Republican nominating contest in August.
Kobach has stood by his hard-line positions, including his time as vice chairman of Trump’s short-lived commission looking into the president’s frequent but unproven claims of voter fraud. Kobach has touted his effectiveness, even pointing to his success in passing a Kansas law requiring that prospective voters prove their citizenship.
The law was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year by a federal judge.
“Some people on the left may disagree with some of my policies, but I do as I say,” Kobach said at a debate last week in Garden City in western Kansas, drawing boos from some in the audience.
Other recent polls have also shown a tight race. The Reuters poll was conducted online, in English, from Oct. 17 through Oct. 27 and had a confidence interval, a measure of precision, of 4 percentage points. It surveyed 986 likely voters and weighted the responses according to the latest government population estimates.
Gary Boldt, 77, a wheat and milo farmer in Ulysses, Kansas, said he was a lifelong Republican but could not vote for Kobach and would support Kelly instead.
“I’m opposed to Kobach. He has spent much more time than necessary out of the state working on his favorite issues,” Boldt said. “I also do not like his oratory; he shares a habit with other politicians of playing around with statistics.”
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Additional reporting by Chris Kahn in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by James Dalgleish