Kansas GOP candidates Kobach, Johnson tripped up by spectacular advertising gaffes

Kobach lands in sand trap with Woods image, Johnson scores double bogey with ads

By: - October 30, 2022 3:45 pm
professional golfer Tiger Woods as a murderer and prompted Democratic nominee Chris Mann to condemn his opponent's dishonest quest to become the state's top law enforcement officer. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kris Kobach, the Republican Party’s nominee for attorney general, revised an attack ad depicting professional golfer Tiger Woods as a murderer and prompted Democratic nominee Chris Mann to condemn his opponent’s dishonest quest to become the state’s top law enforcement officer. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Republican attorney general candidate Kris Kobach and state treasurer nominee Steven Johnson revised attack ads days before the November election to remove objectionable or inaccurate information designed to undermine Democratic opponents.

Kobach blamed an advertising agency for improperly using video of professional golfer Tiger Woods’ arrest for driving under the influence in a campaign commercial targeting Democratic attorney general candidate Chris Mann. Kobach declared, without substantiation, Mann wouldn’t seek imposition of the death penalty against mass murderers or killers of law enforcement officers.

The Kobach campaign declined to take responsibility for the gaffe, but had the commercial recast to remove the image of Woods in custody of two officers in 2017.

Mann’s career as a Lawrence police officer was ended when a DUI motorist struck him at 50 mph during a routine traffic stop. He later worked as a prosecuting attorney.

“Just when I thought nothing could shock me, Kris Kobach lies about me and Tiger Woods in the same deceptive ad,” Mann said. “I believe we should keep guns out of the hands of children and violent criminals. Kris Kobach? He shouldn’t be speaking on gun safety. He is so careless that he left his guns in his car, right here in Kansas, allowing deadly weapons to be stolen by criminals.”

Mann, who hadn’t sought elective office before filing for attorney general, is opposed to the death penalty but said he would follow state law in capital cases.

Kelli Kee, spokeswoman for the Mann campaign, said Kobach’s ad portraying Woods as someone being arrested for murder was “absolutely false and deceptive.” She said Kobach exhibited “no shame in the lies he’ll tell to win political power.”

Kobach, of Lecompton, didn’t respond to a request for comment about ramifications of the advertising miscue. He was twice elected secretary of state and lost subsequent races for governor in 2018 and U.S. Senate in 2020.

Democratic state Treasurer Lynn Rogers said the trust of Kansas voters was violated by a pair of attack ads released by the campaign of Steven Johnson, the Republican nominee for state treasurer. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Democratic state Treasurer Lynn Rogers said trust of Kansas voters was violated by a pair of bogus attack ads released by the campaign of Republican state treasurer candidate Steven Johnson, left, a Kansas House member from Assaria. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Johnson’s whiff

Johnson, the GOP nominee campaigning to unseat Democratic state Treasurer Lynn Rogers, posted to social media an ad that denounced passage of a 2015 increase in the state sales tax. The commercial was pulled by Johnson because he had voted for that bill while a member of the Kansas House. Rogers didn’t vote for the legislation, because he wasn’t elected to the Kansas Senate until 2016.

The second version of Johnson’s tax-policy assault on Rogers also missed the mark. In the revised edition of the commercial, Johnson criticized Rogers for supporting a 2017 tax bill. However, the legislative record showed both Johnson and Rogers cast votes for it. The bill in question repealed the controversial, budget-crushing tax policy “experiment” signed into law in 2012 and 2013 by Gov. Sam Brownback.

“I guess Steven forgot to check his own record while lying about mine,” said Rogers, of Wichita. “He has majestically broken the trust of the voters by running these ads, sending extremist spokespeople out and failing to even remember his record.”

In campaign appearances, Johnson and Rogers have emphasized reasons Kansas voters should place their trust in them to handle state finances with honesty and integrity.

Rogers said a pattern had developed in which political strategists employed by Johnson and Kobach pivoted to “underhanded tactics to secure the win for extremists who don’t represent what voters want.”

Johnson, an Assaria farmer who has served in the House since 2011, didn’t respond to a request for details about how his campaign twice distorted voting on state tax policy. His campaign manager, Rob Fillion, defended the revamped ad in a statement to The Kansas City Star.

Republican state Sen. Caryn Tyson, who narrowly lost the August primary to Johnson, had objected to a Johnson commercial during their race. Johnson claimed she was “tax hiking Caryn Tyson.” She said it was blatantly false that she was architect of the 2015 sales tax reform bill referenced in the first version of Johnson’s recent attack on Rogers.

Vicki Hiatt, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said Johnson’s willingness to operate fast and lose with facts helped him in the primary against Tyson. Hiatt said Kansans should know Johnson was relying on “the same dishonest tricks” in the general election to be decided Nov. 8.

“If Steven Johnson can’t be trusted to represent the facts honestly, how can Kansans trust him with the state’s finances?” Hiatt said.

State Treasurer Lynn Rogers, right, said advisers for GOP treasurer candidate Steven Johnson and attorney general nominee Kris Kobach engaged in “underhanded tactics” to advance views of extremists who don’t represent Kansas voters. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

October surprises?

Maneuvering by the Johnson and Kobach campaigns followed debunking of a bid by Derek Schmidt, the GOP nominee for governor, to advance false allegations the administration of Gov. Laura Kelly financially supported a drag show in Wichita.

Schmidt, who serves as the state’s attorney general, equated the show to an effort to sexualize children. A spokeswoman for the Kelly campaign, Lauren Fitzgerald, said “Schmidt should be embarrassed” for failing to provide evidence in support of his attack.

Patrick Miller, a professor at University of Kansas, said most voters made up their mind about candidates early in the campaign season. Candidates tend to release October surprises in an attempt to reach undecided voters who so far had been content to ignore the campaigns, politicians and issues, he said.

“They often will get attention and hopefully break through to that person who is only casually or minimally paying attention,” Miller said.

Alexandra Middlewood, of Wichita State University, said late-breaking attacks, such as the plunge by Schmidt, could be used to invigorate the base of a candidate or party rather than influence voters still on the fence.

It’s really about convincing his own base to show up and vote for Republicans,” she said.

Emporia State University professor Michael Smith said Schmidt’s gambit could be another effort to encourage Kansas conservatives to turn away from state Sen. Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha. Pyle is an independent candidate for governor who could have an impact in a close contest between Schmidt and Kelly even if his percentage of the vote didn’t surpass single digits, he said.

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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.

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