Laura Kelly elected Kansas governor, defeating Kris Kobach

Posted: Updated:
AP AP
(CNN) -

Democratic Kansas state Sen. Laura Kelly has been elected the state's next governor, defeating Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach's loss is a blow to both Kansas Republicans, who hadn't lost a statewide race in nearly a decade, and President Donald Trump, who enlisted Kobach as an adviser soon after winning the 2016 election and then made him the leader of a panel on voter fraud after taking office.

That initiative, dismissed by most Democrats as a farce to advance GOP efforts to suppress the vote, faltered badly. But Kobach's standing with Trump never wavered.

"He's tough, he's strong and I hated that he ran because I would have loved to have brought him into my administration," Trump said at an October rally in Kansas. "In fact, if he loses, I'll bring him into my administration in two seconds."

Trump's backing — including a pre-primary endorsement -- was also key in helping Kobach unseat the current governor, fellow Republican Jeff Colyer, in the primary.

Kelly, who also overcame the candidacy of big-spending independent Greg Orman, which many Democrats had believed would siphon off anti-Kobach votes, ran on a moderate platform highlighting her years of work in the state Legislature.

She also had the support of former Republican Gov. Bill Graves, who joined her and former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on the trail during the final days of the campaign.

"Laura is the only choice to lead Kansas and end the Brownback-Kobach experiment for good," Sebelius said before the vote, tying Kobach to former Gov. Sam Brownback, whose administration dug the state into a deep financial hole before he left the post to become the US ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

Previous updates by the Associated Press and KAKE News:

5:00 p.m.

The gubernatorial candidates spent the day trying to make sure every last supporter votes. Analysts expect the race for Kansas governor to be a tight one.

Republican Kris Kobach voted Tuesday morning in his hometown of Lecompton. Afterward, he tweeted that it was an honor to have the chance to vote for himself for governor, adding “I love Kansas and being able to serve my fellow Kansans as governor would be the honor of my life.“

When KAKE's Pilar Pedraza spoke with Koback on Monday as he campaigned in the Wichita area, he said he’s ready for the campaign to be over, but prepared not to have final results Tuesday night.

He also said if this race comes down to accounting provisional ballot’s next week — like it did in the Republican primary — he will recuse himself from his secretary of state duties to oversee that count.

Democratic candidate Laura Kelly cast her vote in Topeka Tuesday morning. At one of her campaign stops late Monday, she told KAKE's Morgan Downing that she thinks Kansas voters will make a clear choice between her and Kobach.  

Kelly said Kansans know this race is too important to waste a vote on Independent candidate Greg Orman.

She added voting for Kobach is essentially a vote to repeat former Gov. Sam Brownback's experiments, saying the Legislature has started to pull out of the Brownback Era and that Kansans don't want to go back to that.

The 13-year Senator says this election feels different. 

10:40 a.m.

Republican Kansas Secretary of Kris Kobach says voter turnout appears to be heavy.

Kobach talked to reporters Tuesday in Lecompton as he cast his own ballot for governor. He is running for the seat against Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly. She is wooing GOP moderates who are put off by Kobach's hardline stances on issues such as immigration, while Kobach expects his conservative base to turn out to counter enthusiasm on the left.

A wild card is Independent candidate Greg Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman, who Democrats fear could take enough votes to hand the election to Kobach.

Vote 2018 Headlines & Election Results

Lines have been reported in locations that include Salina.

Kansas Democrats are also hoping to flip two GOP held U.S. House seats in the eastern part of the state.

7:05 a.m.

Voters have started casting ballots in Kansas' closely watched governor's race and in two hotly contested U.S. House seats.

The race for governor between Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly was a toss-up in the campaign's final weekend. Kelly is wooing GOP moderates who are put off by Kobach's hardline stances on issues such as immigration, while Kobach expects his conservative base to turn out to counter enthusiasm on the left. A wild card is Independent candidate Greg Orman.

What you need to know before you head to the polls on Tuesday

How to get a discounted ride to the polls

In eastern Kansas, incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder is facing a formidable challenge from Democratic newcomer Sharice Davids, who would be the nation's first LGBT Native American in Congress. And Republican Steve Watkins and Democrat Paul Davis are battling for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins.

6:25 a.m.

Donald Trump Jr. is urging voters in a robocall to vote for Republican Steve Watkins in a hotly contested Kansas congressional race and describes the novice candidate as "my Dad's good friend."

The call going out to voters Monday in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas is from the Kansans Can Do Anything political action committee. It has been financed mainly by the candidate's father.

The seat is held by retiring five-term Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, and President Donald Trump carried the district easily 2016. But the Democratic nominee is former Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis and the race is close.

The president has endorsed Watkins and in the call, the president's son urges voters to "keep Kansas red." Watkins is a former Army officer and government contractor.

10:19 a.m.

Kansas voters will decide whether to promote to governor Kris Kobach, an ally of President Donald Trump, who wants to crack down on immigrants living in the state illegally and resume conservative tax-cutting policies that critics labeled a failure.

Republican Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, says he would slash spending and seek tax cuts like those championed by unpopular former Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012-13.

His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Laura Kelly, has made her opposition to such tax cuts the centerpiece of her campaign.

A wild card is Independent candidate Greg Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman, who Democrats fear could take enough votes to hand the election to Kobach.

Kansas Democrats are also hoping to flip two GOP held U.S. House seats in the eastern part of the state.
 

Check out these photos from across KAKEland snapped by our viewers, staff and local officials. Do you have pictures to share with us? Email them to news@kake.com.

MORE SLIDESHOWS HERE