What we learned from the Kansas abortion vote and primary results
4:37PM Aug 8, 2022
The August 2 election was a political earthquake in Kansas. The headline was a 59 41% vote against an amendment that would have allowed the legislature to ban abortion. But there were a host of other high profile races as well. My name is Clay wire stone. I'm the opinion editor at the Kansas reflector. And for today's reflector podcast, we are joined by editor in chief Sherman Smith, and Senior Reporter Tim carpenter. Welcome to you both. Thanks. Great. Love to be here. So let's start with the biggest story one that was picked up by national news media from coast to coast. And that is the thumping defeat, frankly, for the abortion amendment. Thoughts about that?
I think it's it's hard to put into perspective what a surprise this was. I think nobody before Election Day predicted that we would have a 1920 point margin on this. The only public polling we had suggested that it would be a very close race. And the while we'd heard about internal polling and suggested that as well. Nobody really knew going into which side was going to prevail. I guess it seems a little more obvious that we should have known.
Well, I, to me, what what comes to mind is that most of the time, when we talk about elections, we proceed from the assumption that there's an essentially 5050 split, that people are evenly divided, particularly on something high profile, and the campaigning knocks things a few points in one direction or the other. And that's what you're essentially reporting on in the aftermath is how did you get those two or three percentage points? You know, either way, and I think what's remarkable about the abortion vote is that anything that you can talk about that might have kicked things, a few points in either direction, does not really account for this, you know, 1920 point margin like this, really was saying something and I think we're still coming to terms with just how loud of an expression that was.
No, this is Tim, I, I think that this beyond national interest system, this garnered international interests. I was interviewed by BBC Scotland on this. So I think there are people around the world that kind of follow this Kansas vote, which is astonishing to me. There's a couple things to think about the messaging was powerful. And the messaging from the opponents, this amendment, appeal to independents, Democrats and some Republicans. And that's how they you came up with a what 160,000 person, a majority, tons and tons and tons of money was spent on this. So you get plenty of opportunity to hear the messaging. There were a bunch of complaints about the messaging being confusing and misleading. That was a factor in this. I think the polling was an embarrassment. I'm not even sure polling works anymore. People are going to be honest about what they what they really believe about an important amendment about this. The The final thing that happened right before the vote was there was a pack run by former Kansas Congressman Tim heels camp that threw a bunch of money into kind of bogus texts to to absolutely mislead people. And I just think that showed some level of desperation among the advocates of the amendment to go to that length when when they were telling everyone they were the honest, they were the straightforward. They were the people to trust. So I found a little bit of irony in that.
Yeah. And, Tim, I think you really, you hit the nail on the head when talking about the fact that this was the folks who voted down the amendment. It was a coalition of Democrats, independents and Republicans. And I think, you know, I wrote a piece that we published today about kind of dumb takes about the amendment. It was largely focused on dumb takes from the pro pro life side. But honestly, I think there's a lot of dumb takes from people on the left, who are who somehow you know, cast the victory cast the amendments defeat as a victory for Joe Biden. I don't think anybody in Kansas saw it that way. Thought about the vote that way. They saw it as something that transcended politics.
After the election, the the people who had worked on the campaign to defeat the amendment, they really emphasize the message discipline that they had in this, they wanted it to be about one thing only, which was this is an attack on your rights. This is about a ban. You know, don't let the government tell you what you can and can't do.
And, you know, I think if you're able to reduce an issue to simply being about freedom, you know, the right to bodily autonomy, the right to whatever it is free freedom is a is a strong message.
If I could just Step Forward briefly, the governor's race is gonna have implications on how abortion policy goes in the future. Laura Kelly is pro choice Derek Schmidt, the Republican candidate is is pro life. You know, the this will be debated in the Kansas legislature and the 2023 session, we'll see what the Republican majority comes up with that, before we even get there. Six of seven members of the Kansas Supreme Court are up for retention votes. And I would assume that the proponents of abortion regulations are going to come after them. And speak to this again, and we'll have a general election debate about abortion policy, as it relates to the Kansas Supreme Court, which is a group of people that wrote an opinion that established and affirmed this right to bodily autonomy you mentioned and which extended to the right to abortion.
And that's, I think, what the kind of the next step that a lot of folks in the in the media and political class are wondering about and looking towards. But Tim, you mentioned that, that governor's race, so let's let's take a moment now and recognize that a bunch of other things were voted on on August 2 as well. So as you say, we had a governor's primary, just setting up as expected, a contest between Democrat Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly, and the Republican attorney general Derek Schmidt. So
what and possibly a spoiler, yes, well, so
Sherman, talk a little bit about that. But
Dennis Pyle is a state senator from Hiawatha, he's been in the legislature for a long time long enough that he served when both Derek Schmidt and Laura Kelly were also in the Senate with them. And he was a Republican until earlier this year, he's now running as an independent because he believes as the Senate record demonstrates that there's not much distance between direction MIT and Laura Kelly on the political spectrum. He thinks, as he puts it, Derek Schmidt is too liberal. And so he's running. He's gathered the signatures he needed, you have to have 5000, he gathered 9000, with a lot of help from Democrats, because they know that having him on the ballot would only take votes away from Derek Schmidt. We saw Republicans late last week. You know, again, some funny business with Tex, the Republican Party, put out a text blast to all the Republicans who signed that petition for for dentists pile and ask them to pull their name off, Republicans are almost certain to challenge the validity of his list. So it's, it's uncertain yet whether you will be on the ballot. But if he does that, you know, that doesn't necessarily handle or Achille victory, but it makes it much more difficult for Derrick Smith.
I think you're right, Sherman, that the Kansas Republican Party is very concerned about the presence of Dennis Pyle peeling votes away from Derek Schmidt. Because Senator pile is going to say I'm a real conservative, and He absolutely has a conservative track record in the legislature, to the consternation of some of his peers in the Senate. And so he's going to attack Derek Schmidt as as moderate as a moderate Attorney General and former state senator. So that that is just going to hurt Derek Schmidt. And so the Republican apparatus is trying to get rid of Dennis Pyle. And I think every time they say something harsh about him, it gets a hair up on the back of his neck, and he's more excited about running as an independent.
Now, there was a time after the, during the pandemic, I should say, when I think people thought that Laura Kelly's chances of winning this race were were very low. But you know, the further you can get away from COVID. And the more that she can make this race about the, you know, the state's finances, how, how much better the state's finances are now than when she took office four years ago. The investments in highways and broadband, the developments all around the states, the Panasonic plant that's coming in to DeSoto. You know, there's a lot of good things that she can talk about. And I think it's going to be a close race regardless, we're certainly closer than we would have thought a year ago.
Well, and I think to Sherman, this is Clay. One of the things that I've mentioned before about Derek Schmidt's campaign is that it's he's really running a campaign in many ways as a generic Republican. He's not he's not putting a lot of very particular kind of Schmidt isms into it. It's kind of the thought that Kansas is naturally Republican. I'm a broadly acceptable Republican. And as you were, as you were saying to him, the pile messaging really disrupts that.
Yeah, both Laura Kelly and Derek Schmidt coasted in their primaries. The one thing I would note that I've just feel as odd, I don't know the real explanation is Laura Kelly and the primary 190 4% of the vote, but Derek Schmidt just got 81% and a candidate who had been arrested from it Paying a terroristic threat against a law enforcement officer took 19% from Derek Schmidt. It's incredible. And so it just makes me wonder if some Republicans just don't want to don't want to vote for the guy that most people want, you know? And does that will that make them vote for Dennis Pyle? It's just a puzzling, who Dennis Pyle has a very uphill battle here. He is a dark horse in this race, yet they might vote for Dennis pile now be the detriment of Derrick Smith.
Absolutely. Speaking about race, a race that was actually super close, which I think some folks, you know, assumed the abortion amendment might be but the the squeaker the incredibly close race on Tuesday, was for State Treasurer on the Republican side between state rep Stephen Johnson and State Senator Karen Tyson. So Tim, you're giving me some talking about some of the how close how close the divide actually is right now?
Yeah, right. The latest Secretary of State numbers say that they both are in the 215,000 vote range. So Steven Johnson is ahead by 375 votes at the moment out of 430,000 cast, which is a remarkably close race. I mean, why? Why would the state be so divided on these people? I don't know. Steven Johnson current Tyson are both rural legislators. They have a long track record in the State House. Stephen Johnson had these very colorful ads where he had some explosions and some other weird stuff going on there and Tyson I think took a more traditional approach to to her candidacy. So in a way they are similar, and maybe neither of them were overwhelmingly persuasive among Republican voters. So whoever wins this at some point, they're going to get a count and somebody's going to win. You just got to win by one, they're going to take on the current state treasurer, Democrat, Lynn Rogers,
you know, when Rogers is already putting out, you know, campaign statements to say we don't even have an opponent. Yes, the message is kind of like, give us money so we can get ahead before they even get started. We don't know how many provisional ballots are out there. We there usually are 1000s in in these elections. And that's ultimately going to decide this, this triggers race, because the margin is so tight, and these are people who, you know, maybe there's a question about the signature on their mail in ballots. They forgot to bring their ID to the pool. Maybe they moved within the county but forgot to update where they live now. These are all people who can have their ballots counted if they show up in time. Make it clear before the canvassing happens. The irony here is that the Secretary of State Scott Schwab because of a feud with what he believes to be a liberal activist, and the ACLU has been stonewalling efforts to get the provisional ballot list, which usually you would use to go engage with these people and say, Hey, you can have your ballot counted if you go back show up. When but, you know, even though courts have told him that what what he is doing is wrong. Shroff has refused to turn it over. You know, that's a list of Republicans and probably like to have right now.
Yeah. And you mentioned Secretary of State with Scott Schwab, he, he did manage to secure his party's nomination, but it was, I think, a lot, a little tighter than folks expected. Right?
Scott Schwab was the incumbent Republican and he was running against Mike Brown, who's a former Johnson County Commissioner, but also an advocate of the idea that Donald Trump had the 2020 election stolen from him. And so he his ads were all about election security. And he tried to claim that Scott Schwab was doing a terrible job of that. And I think Schwab, he embraced some reforms that were actually questioned by liberals. But also Scott Schwab said that he believes Kansans elections were fair and accurate. But Mike Brown took this route that says everything's everything is unfair, and there's cheating all over the place a lot of conspiracy theory stuff. And so in the end, Schwab got 55% of the vote to Browns 45%. And that just it that's 10 percentage points difference, but that is still closer than than some of these other primaries and involved in incumbent.
It's one of the reasons why Schwab has to wage war with the ACLU is to protect his credentials as a conservative Republican because he was vulnerable to a far right attack from somebody you know, frankly, I would say, Brown was just flat out lying about election integrity for personal gain, and social I've had to defend himself against the
wall and if you look Across the nation, frankly, in terms of other states elections that were held that same night, you did see a number of other folks that you know, pushed election conspiracy theories actually winning their races. Speaking of people who are big fans of Donald Trump, we also had a state attorney general race to replace Derrick Schmidt. And once in future candidate, Kris Kobach, took that spot on the Republican side.
So right, so in the attorney general's race, the Democrat loan candidate was Chris manna, Lawrence, attorney and former police officer who got tragically got run over by a DUI driver, and that's part of his kind of interesting narrative of public service. So he's the Democratic nominee. But then you had a three way race between Kris Kobach, who we know is a former Secretary of State, he's run for governor run for the US Senate unsuccessfully, a state senator Kelly Warren, who is more of a newcomer. She ran an important judiciary committee in the in the Senate, but doesn't have a lot of courtroom experience. And then the third candidate was Tony MythTV, who's a former US prosecutor who prosecuted very important national terrorism cases in cases in Kansas, and had no doubt the most experienced trial experience in the courtroom. And as it shook out, Kris Kobach got 42% of the vote Kelly, Warren 38 and Tony TV 20. So Kris Kobach, will be on the November ballot, in the AGs race,
the entire Republican establishment put their support behind Kelly Warren because they dislike Kris Kobach so much, there'll be curious to see if they're just, you know, willing to look the other way and and turn their attention to the other races now, and live with the possibility that a Democrat could actually win that race, or if they'll hold their nose and go ahead and back Kris Kobach, who is, you know, being complaining about the swamp in Topeka, the bucking the system, beating the system, all those those things, you know, his campaign right now, though, is beat is Sue Joe Biden. And you know, you just wonder what, what kind of support he can get in a statewide election from independents? How many Republicans are really going to support and we saw what happened in the governor's race four years ago. He's the rare candidate who has more people who disapprove of them than a proof.
It's going to be very interesting in the race because the reason that the Kansas chamber, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Senator Roger Marshall, Americans for Prosperity and other conservative groups endorsed Kelly Warren, was that they believe Kris Kobach, was unelectable, they said, ineluctable in November. And the issue there is that Kris Kobach, can definitely win these primaries, and he won two statewide races for Secretary of State, but when he ran for governor, against Laura Kelly, and in the primary for US Senate, he just couldn't get that collection of votes, kind of crossover, maybe moderate Republican votes to get elected. So this question is, does Kris Kobach have another ceiling in the low 40s? That would allow Chris man, the Democratic nominee to sneak in there.
And all Chris man and the Democrats have to say is don't take it from us. Look at what the Republicans said about Kris Kobach. He is a threat to democracy unable to be elected. We can't have him as our attorney general. Yeah,
that's the thing about if you have a competitive primary, I think the other side should always use those harsh comments made by those primary rivals who lost in the Republican races, you should somehow use those against the candidate. It seems like it's just like, you know, the TV ad waiting to be had?
Well, and it's also true, right, Tim, that just from the basic math, a majority of Republicans did not vote for Kris Kobach. In the primary,
no majority. That's right. That's right. So But now, the the Republicans, the idea was that they will coalesce around the GOP nominee. I mean, I think Kris Kobach would be certainly the front runner in that race as it stands right now. But we got about 90 days to find out whether that changes. Well. And
and I do think there's the the great irony, or just something that that I don't think a lot of people remarked on when looking at Kansas as a result on Tuesday, everyone was looking at this amendment failing, but the same folks, where you have this abortion amendment fail is also the one that gets Kris Kobach back into the running for a statewide office. So that's a pretty
it was a three way race. I think the counter to that is the vote shows that a minimum of 20% of registered Republicans voted against the constitutional amendment. You have to wonder if that would translate roughly to 20% of registered Republicans would not vote for Kris Kobach in a general election.
And I'm not sure you can make that leap. We're you know, this is the thing about these elections. You know, I I think I'm suspicious of all polling. And until we get into November and the votes get counted, we don't know
why. And we also do know from the just doing some basic kind of number crunching on the primary results that there were a lot of people who showed up to vote simply on the amendment and did not even touch the other races, even people who are registered to one party or another. So Tim, just looking here really quickly, you know, we've been talking about the statewide amendment, the statewide races, but we also have a couple of we also have some congressional races that are coming up.
Right, Kansas has four congressional districts, there are four incumbents running in for reelection. The couple of the districts have been changed, though by the map. And that's going to affect first of all, the third district race where incumbent Democrats Reese, David's running for re election against Amanda Atkins, David's V Atkins two years ago, however, the district has been gerrymandered, harshly to remove a lot of people who potentially could have voted for Sharif David's by and the Republicans and legislature are trying to help Amanda Atkins prevail in this race. I think it's still going to be a very, very tough battle. Secondly, jakela Turner in the second district is running as an incumbent Republican against a very young guy named Patrick Schmidt who veteran and not a lot of political experience. But maybe that's to his advantage. Tracy man and the first district is from Salina and he's running against the guy from Garden City. What's going to be interesting and Tracy man's race is that for crying out loud, he represents all of Western Kansas. But in the gerrymandering finagling that went on, they went over and just took Lawrence and put it into the first district, the most rural district and congressional district, Kansas now includes Lawrence, which we might add in the constitutional amendment voted for against the amendment, eight to two by a margin of eight to two, I think. So in the fourth district in Wichita, Ron Estes is running for reelection against a gentleman, a Democrat from Wichita on, you know, I think, generally, these incumbents have a real advantage. But we know at least the third district race in the Kansas City area is going to be competitive. And we'll just have to see how these other shake out.
Really interesting maps out there that show how the the abortion vote broke down on these congressional district lines, and the no votes one and all four districts. And after the election night, the next day is typical. You see, parties come together, they try to unite, everybody has messaging ready to go out, Democrats were blasting their messages all across the state. And we saw, especially in these congressional races, the Republicans just kind of went silent, like, we were not sure what we can or can't say about abortion anymore. And maybe that was going to be their whole message anyway. So they got to figure out what exactly does this abortion thing mean? Democrats have to figure that out too. And, and how that could translate into the results in the midterm elections.
I think partly these Republicans are gonna vote, excuse me run against Joe Biden. Yeah, you know, the Joe Biden is bad. And you know, Amanda Atkins will say Joe Biden is terrible. And guess what Rhys Davids is his good buddy. And so she should be blamed for gas prices. high gas prices are inflated strings are up, right. You can't buy a house, who knows what else they'll attach to St. Davids as she's responsible for St. Davids, on the other hand, just jumped out of the gate and talked about abortion rights. You know, I just think it has having an impact on on other races. As we go about and talk about issues. It's going to be one,
you know, may feels like an eternity ago. That's how far away we are from the November election. So a lot can change on the messaging and what you know, who knows what's going to happen over the next 12 week. One
other quick note is that US Senator Jerry Moran is running for reelection. And he he had a primary race against a woman named Joan Farr, who's run Kansas politics before but I think also dabbled in Oklahoma politics at the same time. So it's a little weird, but she got 90,000 votes in that primary against Jerry Moran. So he's the clear favorite in that race. He will be competing against Mark Cullen, who is a former mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte. County seems to have a good grip on what he needs to do. And I think the focus of his campaign is to win the 10 largest counties in the state and not get hammered so much in the rural areas. And I think that gives them a fighting chance. So we'll see if Jerry Moran can pull his crossover vote and how deep Maher calling can go and to being a bipartisan candidate.
And, you know, Sherman, you mentioned that, you know, the distance from May to now and from now to that general election. And I think it's also important to note that as much as people may try to Connect candidates to Biden. You know, we're seeing changes on the federal level with the passage of the, you know, the inflation Reduction Act or whatever they're calling it now. You know, things can change, things can change on the national level, too. There's no reason that Joe Biden is necessarily going to be hugely unpopular in three months, probably, but we don't know for sure. And then finally, closing things out on this kind of recap. Sherman, we, there are a number of kinds of colorful Kansas legislators, folks that we've written about folks that we followed, who will not be returning to the Kansas State House this upcoming session?
Well, first of all, there are a number of legislators who decided not even to bother running again, and a number of races where there's there's no challenger, but we saw on the primary election nights, I think eight and come out, Republicans went down students, seven recover, Republicans want income and Democrat went down in the primary for a variety of reasons. Some of them are ones who had behaved particularly poorly at times. We have Aaron Coleman, the Democrats who had some trouble with the women in his life, the girls in his life earlier, earlier on, was just kind of a pariah within his his party, the Democrats disowned him. He I think finished third in his primary race up in Wyandotte. County. But we have representatives Susie Carlson, who had been busted for a DUI early in the legislative session, Representative Cheryl Helmer, who got a lot of national attention for hate filled email about a transgender student grad students at the University of Kansas. And we have Representative Mark Samsel, who a year ago got into some controversy when he was working as a substitute teacher. He kicked a student in the groin and later explained that it was because he believed it was part of God's plan.
This is Tim again. And so that's right. Those are four candidates who sought reelection that had some real political problems on their hands. There was another group of state legislators for Republicans that lost their primaries. And it's interesting because these are pretty conservative people. And they I believe they lost to more conservative candidates, Bradley Ralph of dodge. I think he voted against a transgender sports bill that might have cost him you know, John Wheeler, Garden City, jump Barker of Abilene have a long standing legislator who is highly regarded. He must have gotten crossways with the people down in Abilene. And finally, Tatum Lee, who is of necessity, she lost two in one of the head to head due to redistricting, one of the head to head current representative against current representative and the blending of a district, Tatum Lee lost to another state representative from Scott city. But, you know, I think the legislative leadership, the Republican leadership in the Kansas house, was really interested in having Tatum Lee lose, because she relentlessly criticized them. One final note about this the Kansas house on your general election ballot, all 125 seats are up, there's going to be one special Senate race, the way the Senate is handled is that they'll they'll all the senator 40 senators will be up for election or reelection in 2024
just mentioned that Representative Susan Concannon did survive as a moderate Republican primary challenge from the rights. But for these others that you mentioned to him, it's just it's a reminder, we see every cycle that few you have even just one vote that leadership doesn't like or that the chamber or some other influence doesn't like, you know that that's enough to end your career, no matter whether you're in good standing within the party. Otherwise, no matter how long you've been in the legislature,
these turnover. Well, I'll say one final thing clip is that some people talk about term limits in Kansas absolutely does not need term limits, a turnover in the legislature can be pretty fierce. I mean, there's retirements, we have, you know, about eight or nine people here who were invited to leave the building. And so I think I think the turnover in the legislature is is rapid enough that we don't have you know, 80 entrenched people that don't want to listen to anybody. So I think term limits in Kansas would be a real waste of time, kind of based on the turnover
on the iPad. You can also see here, though, that when people talk about Republicans having a veto proof majority, and the House and the Senate, they do, but it's also within a couple of votes. And so if you have two or three folks Buck leadership, then it's no longer a veto proof majority. And that's, you know, if you if you wonder how people get crossways with leadership, that's, that's one of the ways so 10 I'm Andy Sherman, thanks so much for coming in to discuss the discuss the election results and I'm sure we'll be hearing from you again. Thanks. Take care