HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Governors races often are overshadowed by the fight for control of Congress during midterm elections. But this fall, which candidate wins a state’s top executive post could be pivotal for the nation’s political future.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is the only Democratic governor running for reelection in a state carried by former President Donald Trump in 2020. The former legislator won the office in 2018 against a fiery conservative after running as a moderate who promoted bipartisanship.
She now faces three-term state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has repeatedly tried to tie her to President Joe Biden and criticized her as too liberal for the red state. Schmidt’s campaign has been hurt, however, by a third-party bid from a conservative state lawmaker.
During a debate at the Kansas State Fair this month, Schmidt noted Kelly’s position on abortion as too extreme, telling a crowd she supports abortion without restrictions.
Kansas has been the unlikely site of Democratic hopes in regard to abortion rights. In August, Kansas voters defeated a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed the GOP-controlled Legislature to greatly restrict or ban abortion. Kelly opposed the measure, though she has tried to focus her campaign elsewhere.
Schmidt said he respects the outcome of the vote but that the abortion debate isn’t over.
“What was not on the ballot was Governor Kelly’s position,” he said.
Throughout nearly two decades in elective politics, Kelly has opposed nearly every restriction on abortion now in Kansas law. But asked about Schmidt’s characterization of her position on abortion, she said, “You know, I have never said that.”
Kelly hasn’t emphasized abortion as an issue, though many Democrats think it would help her. Instead, she has been touting the state’s fiscal strength and her work to lure businesses and jobs.
“Maybe I’m not flashy, but I’m effective,” she said at the end of the state fair debate.
Pennsylvania, a top presidential battleground, is another state where the GOP nominee could hurt Republicans’ chances in November. GOP voters chose Doug Mastriano from a crowded field, picking a Trump-backed candidate who opposes abortion rights without exceptions, spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and organized bus trips to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the day of the violent insurrection. He faces Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Asked about the race during the discussion at Georgetown, Ducey was blunt.
“Another axiom that we have at the RGA is that we don’t fund lost causes, and we don’t fund landslides,” he said.