Kris Kobach files for Kansas attorney general run as he launches another bid for statewide office

Andrew Bahl Alice Mannette
Topeka Capital-Journal
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach announces he is running for Kansas attorney general Thursday on the steps of the courthouse in Wichita.

WICHITA — Kris Kobach announced Thursday his campaign for Kansas attorney general, as the controversial former secretary of state seeks to brush off failed bids for governor and U.S. Senate in another run at statewide office.

At a launch event outside the old Sedgwick County Courthouse, Kobach argued a stronger hand was needed to push back against President Joe Biden's administration on matters ranging from gun rights to abortion to environmental regulations. 

Kobach lost handily to U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall by 14 points in his most recent run for statewide office in the 2020 U.S. Senate primary. He also fell short in his 2018 gubernatorial run, losing to Gov. Laura Kelly in the general election after narrowly besting former Gov. Jeff Colyer in the primary.

More:Kris Kobach boosts Michigan election official in vote certification controversy

But Kobach blamed external factors for his losses in both of those races and said the attorney general bid was "what I was meant to do."

"This is the one office that can have the greatest impact fighting back against the Biden Administration's unconstitutional actions," he said. "The governor can protest and make speeches but really doesn't have the authority to stop those actions. A senator can vote but doesn't have the ability to stop those actions."

A campaign filing from Wednesday night lists Laura Tawater as Kobach's campaign treasurer — the first step in laying the groundwork for a bid. Tawater is chairwoman of the Ford County Republican Party and attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington which preceded the U.S. Capitol insurrection, according to reports from the Kansas Reflector.

Former Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks with Rep. Patrick Penn, R-Wichita, at his campaign launch event Thursday in Wichita.

Kobach brings controversial past to race

Kobach's alliance with former President Donald Trump and his controversial claims on immigration and voter fraud gained him national attention. Kobach served as head of Trump's short-lived Commission on Election Integrity, which prompted a firestorm of criticism and was disbanded without issuing a report.

While his assertions of widespread voter fraud were deemed to be baseless by fact-checkers, Kobach used them as the basis for implementing some of the strictest voting laws in the country during his tenure as secretary of state.

He was infamously held in contempt of court for disregarding a court order during a case over Kansas law requiring people to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. The law was later ruled to be unconstitutional.

More:U.S. Supreme Court won’t take up proof-of-citizenship case, dealing blow to Kobach’s legacy

In launching his campaign, Kobach took aim at a range of potential federal actions but cited in particular at House Resolution 1, the sweeping voting rights legislation currently being considered in Congress. 

That bill would require same-day voter registration, create a two-week early voting window in every state and set other national standards for elections, many of which run counter to laws Kobach touted in Kansas.

"If the Biden Administration tries to nationalize our election laws and stops us from using photo ID in Kansas, they will have to get through me first," Kobach said.

Kobach also spoke of standing up for law enforcement, saying "we will stand for law enforcement in Kansas."

Educated at Harvard, Oxford and Yale, Kobach, also formerly served as a constitutional law professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and a fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice. He also was a member of the City Council of Overland Park and a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party.

Will electoral record haunt Kris Kobach?

The attorney general's office would give Kobach a larger megaphone to pursue many of these issues, although even Republicans question whether the third time could possibly be the charm forone of the party's most divisive figures.

In a rare move, the powerful Kansas Chamber launched a pre-emptive strike, with Alan Cobb, the group's president, saying Kobach's campaign "puts too much at risk."

"The Kansas business community has great concerns whether Kris Kobach, as attorney general, can adequately and effectively represent Kansas businesses and individuals successfully in court," Cobb said in a statement.

Kelly Arnold, former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said Kobach would have a significant advantage over other potential candidates, given that he has a national profile and has historically had a close alliance with Trump.

But ultimately, Arnold said, Kobach's electoral record would haunt him.

"He has been rejected by the voters twice," Arnold said. "And so it will be very difficult, I think, a third time to rally the support of Republican voters in Kansas. Not saying you can't do it, it just is going to be more of an uphill battle than in the past."

Rep. Patrick Penn, R-Wichita, who attended Kobach's campaign announcement, said he would continue to be a force on the campaign trail, however.

"He's very humble. He's highly intelligent, and he's a great communicator," Penn said, although he later clarified he was not endorsing Kobach.

Kobach has been involved in other ventures in recent months, including efforts to promote a sanitation device that claims to fight COVID-19. He also has appeared in the national media to boost Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud and appearing at conservative rallies in Topeka after the 2020 election.

Kobach’s latest venture:Sanitizing systems to fight COVID-19

Last year, multiple individuals, including former presidential advisor Steve Bannon, were indicted over their involvement with a Kobach-backed group claiming to raise money to fundraise for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Kobach, who wasn’t mentioned in the indictment, has served as We Build The Wall’s general counsel and maintains a seat on its advisory board, according to the group’s website.

He is unlikely to be the only candidate interested in the attorney general's office, which is being vacated as Attorney General Derek Schmidt runs for governor.

When asked about the potential for Kobach to replace him as attorney general, Schmidt largely demured.

"I’m very proud of the improvements we’ve made in the attorney general’s office," he said in an interview at the state Republican Convention in Manhattan on Saturday. "I hope and am confident that whoever is elected next will continue the progress we made and will build on it. But I’m going to keep focused on the governor’s race."

Other potential Republican candidates include House Speaker Pro Tempore Blaine Finch, Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, and Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay.

On the Democratic side, Kobach's presence will likely spark greater interest in the race. In 2018, the party called on its nominee, Sarah Swain, to end her campaign after a controversial office poster surfaced which critics say condoned violence against police.

Bob Beatty, professor of political science at Washburn University, compared Kobach to the polarizing former Attorney General Phill Kline, who lost to Paul Morrison, the last Democrat to hold the attorney general's office.

Morrison, a Republican-turned-Democrat district attorney from Johnson County, could provide a model for seeking to defeat Kobach, Beatty noted.

"Some Republicans would argue this unnecessarily puts a statewide office in play," Beatty said. 

The story has been updated to clarify that Rep. Patrick Penn did not endorse Kobach's campaign.