New polling in the Kansas governor’s race one week before the Nov. 8 election shows Gov. Laura Kelly at 46.4%, Republican Derek Schmidt at 43.1% and independent Dennis Pyle at 4.5%. Kelly and Pyle added to their numbers since a comparable poll in September, but Schmidt didn’t gain ground. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — New polling in the Kansas governor’s race showed Wednesday that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and independent governor candidate Dennis Pyle expanded their appeal in the past month while Republican nominee Derek Schmidt was struggling to move the needle with voters.
The latest Emerson College Polling survey showed Kelly with 46.4%, Schmidt at 43.1% and Pyle on 4.5%. Libertarian Seth Cordell registered at 1% and 4.4% were undecided. In September, Emerson pollsters said Kelly had the lead at 44.6% with Schmidt at 43.1% and Pyle at 3%.
Meanwhile, Democrat Chris Mann was ahead of Republican Kris Kobach in the contest for attorney general. Mann had 43.8% in the survey to Kobach’s 42.7% with 10.8% undecided. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican, was up 54% to 33% against Democratic nominee Mark Holland.
Dynamics of the 2022 gubernatorial campaign have been influenced by Pyle’s decision to exit the Republican Party to campaign as an independent alternative to Kelly and Schmidt. His hold on 3% to 4.5% of the electorate is expected to come at the expense of Schmidt, who has taken on a conservative tone in the general election in an attempt to counter Pyle’s appeal as a die-hard conservative.
In the new survey, participants were asked who they expected to win the Nov. 8 election for Kansas governor. That result: 52.3% predicted Kelly would prevail and 47.7% were convinced Schmidt would win. In terms of favorability ratings, 53% viewed Kelly favorably and 48% thought of Schmidt in favorable terms. The unfavorable marks for Schmidt and Kelly were 43%.
Kelly had support of 91% of Democrats, 18% of Republicans and 49% of independents in this poll. Also of note: 9% of those surveyed weren’t familiar with Schmidt, who has been the state’s attorney general for more than a decade and served with Kelly in the state Senate.
“Governor Kelly’s strong favorability and significant cross-party support is just more proof that her steady leadership and record of bipartisan results is resonating with Kansans — no matter their political party,” said Madison Andrus, spokesperson for the Kelly campaign.
Andrus said the governor demonstrated an ability to work in a bipartisan manner to balance the state budget, finance public schools, reduce taxes by $1 billion and attract $14 billion in business investments. In addition, she predicted a victory by Schmidt could return the state to unpopular policies championed by GOP Gov. Sam Brownback.
C.J. Grover, a spokesman for Schmidt’s campaign, said Schmidt would prevail Tuesday “despite the millions of dollars Democrats have spent on dark money lies about Derek Schmidt and dishonest tactics to prop up a third-party spoiler.”
Grover’s reference to a spoiler was aimed at Pyle, who was denounced by Grover in August as a “fake conservative.” Pyle is regarded as one of the most conservative members of the Legislature. In his campaign, Pyle has drawn comparisons between Schmidt and Kelly. He held himself out as an alternative to liberal or moderate leadership offered by the Democratic and Republican party nominees for governor in 2022.
Fox News reported an organization known as American Center invested $92,000 in advertising to contrast “conservative independent” Pyle and “Republican in name only” Schmidt. American Center shares an address with a law firm used by the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. In addition, Kansas Democrats helped collect petition signatures for Pyle in the successful effort to add him to the general election ballot.
Schmidt’s final ad of his campaign attacked Kelly for rejecting 20 tax cuts passed by the GOP-led Legislature, the growth of state spending and problems delivering unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. The commercial also attempted to link her to Biden.
The survey of 1,000 likely Kansas voters Oct. 27 to 29 had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated the Kansas gubernatorial race as a toss up.
Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University in Topeka, said details in the latest poll indicated the governor’s race could turn out to be a photo finish. He also pointed to Kelly’s advantage over Schmidt in terms of voters leaning toward a candidate, with Kelly potentially claiming more than half of them.
“The turnout model is one that also favors Kelly slightly, with Democrats voting a high rate,” Beatty said. “The Schmidt campaign is basing their campaign on higher Republican turnout and if that is the case it’ll indeed go down to the wire.”
In the Emerson poll, Kelly dramatically outperformed President Joe Biden among Kansans. Those participating in this survey indicated 58.7% disapproved of Biden, 32.9 approved of the Democratic president and 8.4% were neutral. In a hypothetical 2024 race between former President Donald Trump and Biden, Trump scored 50.4% and Biden 36.8%.
Issues viewed as most important to voters in Kansas, based on this poll: economy, 50%; threats to democracy, 13.5%; abortion, 9.8%; healthcare, 6.5%; education, 6.1%; immigration, 4.8%, crime, 2.8% and housing, 1.3%. In addition, 61% said they supported legislation in Kansas legalizing medical marijuana.
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