© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Your Shortcut To Sorting Out The Tuesday Primary In Kansas

Scott Canon
Kansas News Service

Now it starts to get real. Tuesday’s primary, and the early voting that wraps up at noon on Monday, could begin to clarify what direction Kansas politics will head after the Sam Brownback era. To the right, to the left or anchored in the middle.

Party voters will choose who best represents them in the race for governor and other statewide offices, and sort out crowded fields for Congress in a few seats that, at least potentially, might swing red seats to blue in the first mid-term election with President Donald Trump in office. The general election will decide things for sure in November, but the primary sets the stage of possibilities.

Below you’ll find a quick skim of what the primary voting will decide on the Kansas side of the metro area.


Brownback won the office twice after winning earlier statewide elections to the U.S. Senate — and still managed to leave for a Trump ambassadorship as one of the least popular governors in the country. Now Gov. Jeff Colyer, who served as Brownback’s lieutenant governor and helped bankroll those campaigns, is running to stay in office.

Colyer’s political style is less bold than the man he succeeded, but his policies toe a similar conservative line. Polls suggest he could be trailing equally conservative Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who draws strong supporters and detractors for his crusade against illegal immigration and his court-rejected claims of widespread voter fraud.

Two other seasoned Kansas politicians — former state senator Jim Barnett and state Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer — have raised less money. Still, they’ve brought in enough cash to raise their profiles and become potential dark horses.

The Kansas governor’s office is one of a few statewide posts Democrats have been able to snag in the 21st century. They’re hoping an anti-Brownback or anti-Trump wave might put it in reach again this year.

Laura Kelly, a leader in the Kansas Senate, drew enthusiasm from some party regulars when she got in the race. Josh Svaty, a former state lawmaker and agriculture secretary, has billed himself as the candidate who can appeal in rural areas. Carl Brewer is the former mayor of Wichita, and figures to have some base of support in the state’s largest city.


For ten years, Democrat Dennis Moore held Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District seat by telling voters he was a moderate — even as Republicans complained he was liberal. Republican Kevin Yoder succeeded him and has also often campaigned as a moderate — to howls from Democrats that he’s too conservative for the district that covers Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

Now national Democrats see a chance to win back the seat — even after redistricting, the district is not cinch for Republicans — and candidates have lined up to take him on.

Credit Joseph Morris / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

He faces token opposition in his primary, but the Democratic field is crowded: Sharice Davids, a lawyer who would be the first openly LGBT person to represent Kansas and the first Native American woman in Congress; Tom Niermann, a high school history teacher; Jay Sidie, a market analyst who ran a lackluster campaign as his party’s nominee against Yoder in 2016; Brent Welder, a lawyer and self-described Democratic socialist who drew U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to campaign for him; Sylvia Williams, a bank managing director; and Mike McCamon, a former tech executive.

The Kansas House

In 2016, conservatives lost roughly a third of their seats in the Kansas Legislature. They're trying to reverse that trend in 2018, targeting a number of Johnson County seats now held by more moderate Republicans. 

Those moderates, most with the support of the state’s largest teachers union and and the Kansas Contractors Association, campaigned two years ago on getting the state on more stable financial footing for schools and highway spending. Their election helped swing the balance in the House that made way for the reversal of Brownback's signature income tax cuts.

There are a number of moderate-conservative match-ups for Republican-held legislative seats in Johnson County again on Tuesday:

  • Kansas House District 8: Rep. Patty Markley, who defeated a conservative incumbent in 2016, faces Chris Croft, who's been endorsed by the anti-tax Kansas Chamber and anti-abortion group Kansans For Life. 
  • Kansas House District 14: Rep. Keith Esau is running for secretary of state, so his wife Charlotte Esau is running to keep this seat in the conservative column. Aaron Young and Tom Stanion, who has the endorsement of the centrist Mainstream Coalition, are also competing in the GOP primary.
  • Kansas House District 17: Rep. Tom Cox, who defeated a conservative incumbent in 2016 and won Kansans For Life's endorsement this year, faces Jim Eschrich.
  • Kansas House District 27: Rep. Sean Tarwater succeeded the former speaker of the House. He is facing challenges from Karen Snyder, who has the backing of local public education advocates, and Rochelle Bird, who labels herself as an "authentic conservative." 
  • Kansas House District 28: Rep. Joy Koesten, who defeated a conservative incumbent in 2016, faces Kellie Warren, who got the nod from the Chamber and KFL.
  • Kansas House District 30: Colleen Webster, with Mainstream's endorsement, and Wendy Bingesser, with Chamber and KFL support, are competing in the primary to replace Rep. Randy Powell, who's not running for reelection. Matthew Calcara and Brandon Woodard are facing off in a Democratic primary for this seat. 
  • Kansas House District 39: Rep. Shelee Brim, who knocked off a conservative incumbent in 2016, isn't running for reelection. Brim has instead endorsed Kristy Acree who's facing former state representative Owen Donohue.
  • Kansas House District 49: House Speaker Pro Tem Scott Schwab is leaving the Legislature to run for secretary of state. Megan Lynn is his heir apparent, but she's got primary competition from Fsehazion Desalegn.   

Primaries for Democrat-held seats are a rarer thing. With an all-blue legislative delegation, there are no primary contests in Wyandotte County. In Johnson County, there are primaries in only three districts where the incumbent is a Democrat:

  • Kansas House District 18: Rep. Cindy Neighbor has drawn a challenge from Andy Hurla in the primary. And, on the GOP side, Cathy Gordon and Eric Jenkins are competing to bring a challenge for the seat in November. 
  • Kansas House District 22: Rep. Nancy Lusk faces Michael Coleman III.
  • Kansas House District 29: Rep. Brett Parker, who defeated incumbent Republican James Todd in 2016, is unopposed in the primary. But Todd is gunning for a rematch, if he can hold off Peggy Galvin, the moderate contender in Tuesday's GOP contest. 

The Kansas Senate is not up for election this year. 

Secretary of State

Before Kobach came along, the office was mostly that of record-keeper, a ho-hum job in a flyover state. But Kobach’s efforts to purge the voting rolls elevated his profile nationally. Now the question is whether his successor will follow that lead.

Five Republicans are running to face the lone Democrat, former Google executive Brian McClendon. The GOP primary includes state Rep. Scott Schwab, former state secretary of administration Dennis Taylor, state Rep. Keith Esau, former deputy assistant secretary of state for administration Craig McCullah and former member of the Saline County Commission Randy Duncan.

Insurance commissioner

Current assistant insurance commissioner Clark Shultz is running against Vicki Schmidt. He’s seen as a conservative, she as a moderate, and their stances on abortion have drawn some attention to the race.

Attorney general

Incumbent Derek Schmidt is unopposed in the Republican primary. He was first elected to the post in 2010 and spent much of his time in office dealing with lawsuits challenging the level of state spending on schools.

He’ll face Democratic attorney from Lawrence Sarah Swain, who’s been the target of criticism over a poster in her law office that some said hinted at violence against police. She said its message is an insistence on truth from law enforcement.


Republican Jake LaTurner took over as treasurer last year after Ron Estes was elected to Congress. Both he and the Democrat, Marci Francisco, are unopposed in their respective primaries.

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

Amy Jeffries is the editor of the Kansas News Service. You can reach her on Twitter @amyoverhere.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. 

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.