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The Kansas Attorney General’s Path To Governor Gets Easier After His Opponent Endorses Him

Then-Lt Gov. Jeff Colyer speaking in his office in 2017.
Stephen Koranda
Kansas News Service
Jeff Colyer speaking as lieutenant governor of Kansas in 2017. This was his second bid for the governor's seat. He lost to then Attorney General Kris Kobach in the 2018 Republican Primary.

Former Gov. Jeff Colyer's unexpected early departure from the race to be Kansas governor all but clears the way for his Republican rival to face Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly in 2022.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — Former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer ended his campaign to win the office back Monday after announcing he has prostate cancer.

His exit all but clears the way for his fellow Republican and rival, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, to win the GOP primary for governor next summer before facing off with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in the 2022 general election.

Schmidt now finds himself easily the highest-profile candidate in the Republican race. Kent Lee McElroy, a retired nurse from Leavenworth, has also filed to run for the nomination.

In a statement, Colyer announced his diagnosis and endorsed Schmidt.

“While I have always focused on helping others, for the next few weeks I am going to focus on my health,” said Colyer, a physician.

Colyer’s exit helps Schmidt avoid what would have likely been a contentious primary. Powerful financial backers like the Republican Governor’s Association hadn’t yet committed to a candidate.

Both candidates have name recognition from holding office previously, and both have netted a myriad of endorsements from powerful statewide politicians.

Colyer had consolidated support with members of the Kansas congressional delegation including Sen. Roger Marshall and Rep. Tracey Mann.

Meanwhile, Schmidt got endorsed by two of the most high profile, longest-serving Republicans from Kansas: former senators Pat Roberts and Bob Dole.

Kansas is the only state won by former President Donald Trump, who won the state by roughly 14 points in 2020, and an incumbent Democratic governor.

That means some Republicans view the office as low-hanging fruit the party could win in 2022.

Colyer’s departure could also jump start when Kelly needs to begin campaigning in earnest now that Schmidt stands as a frontrunner largely free to focus on the general election.

Colyer served as Kansas governor for a year after his boss, Gov. Sam Brownback left to become an ambassador in 2018. His loans to Brownback’s campaign were seen as crucial when the pair ran for re-election in 2014.

This was his second attempt to win an election for governor. He narrowly lost to Kris Kobach in the Republican primary in 2018 and then left office in early 2019 when Kelly took office.

Abigail Censky is the political reporter for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @AbigailCensky or email her at abigailcensky (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

It’s my job to explain statewide politics to our audience with clarity and context. Sometimes that means tracking developments in the Legislature and shining light on things that alter the laws, the taxes and the services of state government. Other times it means traveling throughout the state to amplify the voices and stories of Kansans. And, critically, I strive to hold our public officials accountable. Reach me at abigailcensky@kcur.org.
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