Polling for AG candidate Tony Mattivi reveals hidden appeal among GOP voters for a crimefighter

Kris Kobach’s high name recognition thrusts him to top in multiple polls

By: - July 7, 2022 10:03 am
Attorney General candidate Tony Mattivi said new polling demonstrates voters are drawn to his record as a prosecutor of criminals and terrorists. In previous polls, Kris Kobach, left, and Kellie Warren, right, have held leads on Mattivi. (Kansas Reflector photos by Tim Carpenter and Sherman Smith)

Attorney General candidate Tony Mattivi said new polling demonstrates voters are drawn to his record as a prosecutor of criminals and terrorists. In previous polls, Kris Kobach, left, and Kellie Warren, right, have held leads on Mattivi. (Kansas Reflector photos by Tim Carpenter and Sherman Smith)

TOPEKA — Attorney General candidate Tony Mattivi’s campaign released a poll Thursday pointing to the high percentage of Kansas Republicans undecided about who to vote for in the race and evidence Mattivi’s biography as a federal prosecutor who took on terrorists and other criminals could be persuasive at the ballot box.

Mattivi trailed GOP challengers Kris Kobach and Kellie Warren in the poll’s initial snapshot of likely Republican voters in the Aug. 2 primary, but surged past both rivals when these prospective voters were told he was a former federal prosecutor who worked on drug trafficking, violent crime, racketeering and money laundering cases as well as cases of international terrorism from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and domestic terrorism in Kansas.

In the initial take in the poll by Cygnal of Washington, D.C., voters preferred Kobach at 30.6%, Warren at 16.4% and Mattivi at 8.9%. A startling 44.1% in the poll conducted June 30 to July 1 said they were still undecided with one month left in the primary campaign.

After supplemental information about Mattivi and his two opponents was pushed out to participants in the poll, Mattivi improved to 34.5%, Kobach fell to 21.4% and Warren slid to 10.9%. The number of undecided was reduced to 33%.

The Mattivi poll described Kobach as a former secretary of state who was a “warrior against illegal immigration” and had filed lawsuits against the administration of President Joe Biden. It described Warren as a state senator supported by influential Topeka lobbying associations.

Mattivi was a federal prosecutor for more than two decades and is the only candidate among the three with experience in the Kansas attorney general’s office.

“When voters are given the option of a conservative 25-year career prosecutor or career politicians with empty promises they choose competency and experience every time,” said Brent Buchanan, president and founder of Cygnal.

The job of attorney general opened up because Attorney General Derek Schmidt decided to seek the GOP nomination for governor. He’s preparing for a likely showdown with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in November.

Mattivi, of Topeka; Kobach, of rural Lecompton; and Warren, of Leawood, have concentrated during the primary campaign on hot-button issues, electability, career achievements and the ability to advance conservative policy.

The campaigns has been colored by polling that placed Kobach in the lead followed by Warren and Mattivi. The Democrat campaigning for attorney general is Chris Mann, a Lawrence attorney and former police officer.

In April, the WPA Intelligence firm sampled for Kobach’s campaign the opinion of Kansas Republican primary voters and reported Kobach led the field at 52% with Warren at 12% and Mattivi at 7%. In that poll, only 28% of the GOP members contacted said they were undecided in that primary race. More recently, Battleground Connect performed a June survey on behalf of Warren’s campaign and concluded she was still trailing Kobach but was favored by 31% of GOP voters.

Warren has invested in campaign advertising that reminded voters Kobach previously lost campaigns for Kansas Senate, U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor.

“Some candidates are great at creating headlines,” Warren said, “but they never win.” On social media in July, Warren put it more bluntly: “Laura Kelly is governor because Kris Kobach is a perennial loser.”

An April survey performed for WPA Intelligence took on the electability issue by looking at a showdown between Republican Kobach and Democrat Mann. In that hypothetical contest, the poll said, Kobach led 44% to 41%.

State Sen. J.R. Claeys, who works with the Kobach campaign, said that poll showed shortcomings of analysts who viewed Kobach as too conservative to win the general election in 2022. Despite more recent losses in the U.S. Senate and governor races, Kobach won statewide contests in 2010 and 2014 for secretary of state.

In the Cygnal poll for Mattivi, the firm took a look at the favorable and unfavorable ratings of the GOP attorney general candidates as well as former U.S. President Donald Trump. He carried the state in the 2020 presidential election by 14.5 percentage points.

Trump had the highest favorability rating of 61.8% among Kansans polled, but also was viewed unfavorably by 35.1%. In terms of those black-and-white metrics, the attorney general candidates stacked up like this: Kobach, 37.3% favorable and 45% unfavorable; Mattivi, 10.5% favorable and 7.6% unfavorable; Warren, 19.2% favorable and 11% unfavorable.

The participants in this survey also revealed their top issue in terms of deciding who they would vote for in the Kansas attorney general’s race.

Here’s how that turned out: reducing crime, 18.6%; taking on Biden, 16.2%; preventing government overreach, 13.1%; stopping abortion, 12.4%; protecting gun rights, 10.2%; securing borders and illegal immigration, 9.7%; election integrity, 6.8%; critical race theory in schools, 2.4%; and thwarting new COVID-19 restrictions, 1%.

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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.