Democratic attorney general candidate Chris Mann, right, lost a close race to Republican Kris Kobach for attorney general. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Nolan Meyer is a junior studying political science at Washburn University.
Democrats missed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to a make splash in Kansas politics by doing something they’ve only done once since 1978: Win the attorney general’s office. But you can’t win an election if voters don’t even know who you are, which was the case for Chris Mann, the Democratic candidate.
Chris Mann’s story is the epitome of the American Dream. As a young police officer, he was struck by a drunk driver while on duty. He recovered from his injuries and overcame many obstacles, going on to become a lawyer. He created a strong track record of success in the courtroom, prosecuting drunk drivers and white-collar criminals. Throughout his campaign he presented himself as man of faith and family. A young candidate with great promise to make a name for himself.
Hollywood could not have created a better candidate.
Yet, Kris Kobach won the attorney general’s race, surprising many across Kansas, as he is arguably the most controversial politician in Kansas since former Gov. Sam Brownback. Kobach had lost his two previous elections and failed to receive key endorsements that Republicans normally received, such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s approval. All of which raises the question: Did Kobach win the Attorney General’s race or did Mann lose it?
Data from the 2022 election day exit poll presented by FOX News tells us that when voters were asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion or if they did not know enough about Mann to formulate an opinion, 52% of voters said they did not know enough. This is a shockingly large number for a high-profile race and office. When asked the same question regarding Kobach, 50% said they had an unfavorable opinion and 16% had no opinion.
Pre-election polling indicated a close race from the beginning. A poll conducted by Emerson College on Sept. 19 had Kobach in the lead at 40.7%, with Mann at 38.8% and 16.2% of voters undecided, with a margin of error of +/-3%. Emerson College released a second poll Oct. 29. In the second poll, Mann took the lead at 43.8%, with Kobach trailing at 42.7% and 10.8% of voters undecided.
Emerson College was spot on with its polling. Chris Mann was gaining momentum, but the was race was essentially tied with a significant number of undecided voters.
– Nolan Meyer
Emerson College was spot on with its polling. Mann was gaining momentum, but the was race was essentially tied with a significant number of undecided voters.
When the dust settled after the election, the results showed a close finish, with Kobach winning, 50.8% to Mann’s 49.2%. The election came down to 15,892 votes. Democrats missed a grand opportunity in this race, as the data above shows the attorney general’s office was theirs for the taking.
Mann lost this election for two interrelated reasons: Lack of name recognition and a lack of fundraising. During the campaign, Mann raised about $1.5 million. If he had an additional $1 million, the extra money could have been used to reach voters who may not have liked Kobach but couldn’t vote for someone they knew nothing about.
Unlikely as it may seem, Democrats have overcome these similar challenges in the past AG races.
When Democrat Paul Morrison ran for Attorney General in 2006, he raised $2 million and broadcast 7 different TV ads. He went on to defeat Republican Phill Kline 58.5% to 41.4%. Where was the support Morrison received in 2006 from Democrats this year for Mann? Between all the PAC’s that poured millions of dollars into races across America, not one could donate the money to Mann’s campaign for a TV ad or two?
The Kansas Values Institute broadcast 20 TV ads for Gov. Laura Kelly, but not a single TV ad for Mann. Mann only released 4 TV ads of his own, which clearly were not enough in our modern era. Additionally, Kelly and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids both endorsed Mann less than a month away from election day. Why not endorse him earlier?
Compared with the support Kobach received from the Republican party — one Republican PAC spent $500,000 on ads for him — it appears as though most Democrats had no clue they had a candidate in the race for the attorney general’s office. It is bewildering that the party neglected a candidate who was in such a competitive race and especially the race for Kansas attorney general, as Kobach has promised to spend the next two to four years suing the Biden administration.
To win this election, Mann needed to flip 8,000 votes. If he had started vigorously campaigning in the spring of 2022 with the strong backing of Kansas and national Democrats, he could have won this election.
Mann could have started to raise the additional $1 million and targeted voters across Kansas to gain name recognition. He would have had the resources to release the additional three TV ads he needed in the last few weeks.
This was a missed opportunity for Democrats, not only in Kansas but in Washington, D.C., as well.
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