Kansas poll: Gov. Laura Kelly holds narrow lead in gubernatorial race against Derek Schmidt

Economy and inflation top issue in campaign followed by abortion rights

By: - September 21, 2022 7:02 am
Republican and Democratic candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer, sharing a stage in September, will be decided Tuesday by Kansas voters. the ballot also includes congressional races, judicial retention decisions and constitutional amendments. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Republican and Democratic candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer, sharing a stage in September, will be decided Tuesday by Kansas voters. the ballot also includes congressional races, judicial retention decisions and constitutional amendments. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A new poll of likely Kansas voters released Wednesday indicated Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly held a narrow lead over Republican nominee Derek Schmidt in a heated contest to be decided in seven weeks.

Kelly, who is seeking a second term as governor, was favored by 44.6% of those participating in the survey, while Schmidt was the preference of 43.1%. Independent candidate Dennis Pyle, a lifelong member of the GOP until launching his bid, had 3%. Eight percent of 1,000 people polled Sept. 15-18 were undecided.

The 1.5 percentage point gap between Schmidt and Kelly in the FOX4 survey by Emerson College Polling was within the 3% margin of error. In earlier polling in Kansas’ gubernatorial contest by different organizations, Schmidt was ahead in two polls and Kelly in one poll. One of those polls had Pyle at 2%.

When asked who was most likely to win the governor’s race in Kansas, a majority in the Emerson College poll picked Kelly. The split was Kelly at 53.9% versus 46.1% for Schmidt.

Madison Andrus, spokeswoman for Kelly’s campaign, said the governor’s favorability rating and lead among independent voters was “proof that her steady leadership and record of bipartisan results is resonating with Kansans — no matter their political party.”

She said Kelly earned the trust of Kansans by concentrating on policy that helped families rather than policies embraced by Schmidt that would “bring us back to the failures of Sam Brownback.”

Eric Pahls, a political consultant working on the Schmidt campaign, said the GOP nominee was “surging as Kansans learn more about Laura Kelly’s extreme record” on bills she vetoed that would have banned transgender girls and women from participation in organized sports for girls and women, closing schools statewide at outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and “working in lockstep with Joe Biden to make inflation worse.”

Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, said the latest assessment revealed men in Kansas favored Schmidt over Kelly by a margin of 51% to 38%. At the same time, he said, women were breaking for Kelly over Schmidt 51% to 37%.

“Independent voters favor Governor Kelly over Attorney General Schmidt 46% to 30%,” Kimball said.

The Emerson College poll found 48.4% of Kansans in the survey were most concerned about the economy, but abortion rights was the second-most relevant issue at 16.2%.

Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected in August a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have declared the constitution didn’t guarantee women a right to abortion. Here is how poll respondents said they voted on the amendment: 49.7% no, 35.3% yes and 15% didn’t vote.

The pollsters asked who among Pyle, Schmidt or Kelly best reflected their views on abortion. Pyle was the choice of 8.7%, Schmidt was the pick of 43.6% and Kelly was selected by 47.7%.

“Among those who voted ‘no’ in August, 72% plan to vote for Kelly, while 76% of those who voted ‘yes’ plan to vote for Schmidt. Among those who did not vote, 52% support Schmidt and 32% Kelly,” Kimball said.

Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, said the poll reinforced a theory Schmidt’s campaign pivoted to the hard right and set aside an effort to court moderate voters.

He said recent statements from Schmidt, including a Johnson County rally with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, resembled the fire-up-the-base approach deployed successfully by GOP Gov. Sam Brownback to win reelection in 2014 after Democrat Paul Davis established a lead based on polling averages. Kelly has worked to amplify Republican endorsements of her Democratic campaign in hopes of capturing swing voters.

“This poll really confirms what we’ve been seeing with the campaigns,” Beatty said.

In the Emerson College poll, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican, had a lead of 45% to 33% over Democratic candidate Mark Holland, a former mayor of the unified government in Kansas City, Kansas.

In a hypothetical showdown in 2024 between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, 51.5% said they would vote for Trump and 35.7% would vote for Biden. More than 12% were either undecided or would back an alternate candidate.

Meanwhile, the poll by Emerson College put Republican Kris Kobach ahead of Democratic nominee Chris Mann. It had Kobach at 41% and Mann at 39%.

“This race is neck and neck, said Kelli Kee, spokesperson for the Mann campaign. “This shows that Kansans are tired of career politicians like Kris Kobach putting partisanship over public safety.”

Kobach responded with a poll conducted for his campaign that said 35% would “definitely” vote for him compared to 33% who said they were committed to Mann. If the “definitely,” “probably” and “lean” views of the surveyed voters were combined in this Kobach campaign poll, Kobach’s margin would be 49% to Mann’s 44%.

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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. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.