Campaign survey: Kelly holds slim lead over Schmidt in Kansas governor’s race

Separate GOP poll shows attorney general with narrow advantage on governor

By: - September 24, 2021 8:59 am
New polling shows Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly with a slight edge over Attorney General Derek Schmidt, left, in a likely 2022 gubernatorial showdown following former Gov. Jeff Colyer's withdrawal from the GOP primary. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

New polling shows Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly with a slight edge over Attorney General Derek Schmidt, left, in a likely 2022 gubernatorial showdown following former Gov. Jeff Colyer’s withdrawal from the GOP primary. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — An early survey in the 2022 election cycle shows Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly with a narrow advantage over Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt in a head-to-head gubernatorial showdown of two statewide officeholders gearing up for that campaign.

The poll by Clarity Campaign Labs, a liberal-leaning firm in Washington, D.C., at the behest of EMILY’s List, which promotes Democratic women candidates, indicated Kelly had a 3 percentage point advantage on Schmidt. Kelly held support of 47% of participants to Schmidt’s 44% in a survey with a 3.4% margin of error.

Kelly attracted backing from 83% of voters who considered themselves ideologically moderate and 21% who viewed themselves as somewhat conservative.

Laphonza Butler, newly appointed president of EMILY’s List, said Kelly had proven herself a champion of women and families during a period of unprecedented health and economic challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Butler expressed confidence in Kelly’s path to re-election.

“The numbers tell us that Kansans appreciate her leadership,” Butler said. “A majority of Kansans across party lines approve of Governor Kelly’s performance in office throughout her first term.”


Partisan perspectives

The Kansas Republican Party and Schmidt have argued Kelly fumbled the state’s response to COVID-19. They’ve asserted she responded to the pandemic by unnecessarily closing businesses, imposing mask mandates and limiting the size of gatherings at places of worship. In addition, the Kansas GOP has sought to nationalize the governor’s race by taking issue with policies embraced by President Joe Biden.

Schmidt spokesman C.J. Grover said the poll should be considered biased given the connection to EMILY’s List.

“This poll was bought and paid for by radical hyper-partisan advocates for late-term abortion, EMILY’s List, who have also endorsed Laura Kelly,” Grover said. “The results are laughable, and them releasing it more than a year from Election Day reeks of desperation.”

Kelly and the Kansas Democratic Party have sought to convince voters the state’s economy is in a strong position. The governor has touted expansion in business investment and associated job growth. She says she was integral to achieving proper funding of K-12 public schools, restoring stability to the state’s transportation program and overhauling the child welfare system.

The governor has reset Kansas after a decade of “incompetent leadership” from Republican Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer, said Kelly spokesman Sam Coleman.

“Governor Kelly has turned things around in Kansas through balancing the state’s budget, fully funding schools for three years in a row, and creating over 28,000 jobs —  all while guiding our state through a once-in-a-century crisis. It’s no surprise Kansans are happy with her performance and ready to re-elect her,” Coleman said.


Brownback factor

The survey revealed 53% of respondents approved of the job Kelly had done as governor, with 41% disapproving of her performance. Across the political spectrum, 27% of self-identified Republicans expressed approval of her track record as governor since 2019 along with 69% of  independents and 94% of self-identified Democrats.

As for Schmidt, the pollsters said 40% of participants approved and 42% disapproved of his performance as attorney general. During the GOP primary campaign, Schmidt has sought to convince Republicans of his conservative credentials and eagerness to push back against Biden’s policies.

In 2018, Kelly defeated the Republican nominee, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, with 47.8% of the vote. Kobach had prevailed in back-to-back statewide campaigns for secretary of state, but couldn’t translate high name recognition and a GOP registration advantage into victory in the governor’s race.

Kelly’s first campaign for governor emphasized the unpopularity of Brownback, who had stepped down as governor to work in the administration of President Donald Trump. Instead of distancing himself from Brownback, Kobach advocated resumption of the Brownback economic experiment that centered on slashing state income taxes. Spending wasn’t reduced a comparable amount under Brownback, and the state struggled with budget problems until his tax program was repealed in 2017.

In her campaign for governor, Kelly asserted Brownback’s leadership jeopardized the state’s education and highway systems and undermined the safety net for vulnerable Kansas. She also said Kobach was “Sam Brownback on steroids.”

The survey for EMILY’s List showed Brownback remained unpopular among Kansas voters. In this poll, 17% said they were in favor of returning to Brownback-era policies. At the same time, 56% of respondents wanted to “go in a different direction” than policy championed by Brownback.

Overall, 30% approved of how Brownback did his job as governor and 62% disapproved of his performance as the state’s chief executive.

The telephone survey of 810 registered voters in Kansas was conducted Sept. 13-15. The sample was weighted by the polling firm to reflect a likely 2022 general electorate. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.45%.


Separate poll results

In a separate poll conducted Sept. 7-9 by Remington Research Group, a subsidiary of the Republican political consulting firm Axiom Strategies, 44% of 1,000 likely general election voters in Kansas said they preferred Schmidt to the 40% who favored Kelly in the governor’s race. It had a margin of error of 3%.

Among the four congressional districts, the Remington poll said, Schmidt was strongest in the rural 1st District and weakest in the 3rd District in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. Kelly had the greatest support in the 3rd District and lowest in the Big First.

The Remington poll showed Kelly’s general approval rating stood at 46% statewide, with 39% not approving of her work as governor, and 15% undecided. Here is the Democratic governor’s approval rating by congressional district: 1st, 37%; 2nd, 47%; 3rd, 51% and 4th, 49%.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.