A voter fills out an advance ballot on July 29, 2022, at the Shawnee County Elections Office. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Nevertheless, all of this political commotion got me interested in answering this question: Which Republican presidential candidate will Kansans vote for in the state’s 2024 primary?
Lucky for you, my work in researching that question supplied some trivia. See how you do on this quiz:
- During the last seven presidential election cycles, how many times has Kansas held a primary?
- Who was the last Republican presidential candidate to win a Kansas caucus?
Keep reading for the answers.
Predicting the Kansas primary winner is also timely because Gov. Laura Kelly recently signed legislation that funds a statewide primary for the presidential election in 2024. The passage of the bill was not a sure thing: Many House Republicans flipped their vote — so many that the margin would have been veto-proof. It was a stark and quick shift.
With a primary March 19, Kansas will hold its contest just two weeks after Super Tuesday. As a result, Kansas’s primary returns will swagger into the national news in 2024. In the past, the Republican primary results in Kansas have been either essentially meaningless or nonexistent.
An occasional primary state
During the last seven presidential elections, Kansas has been an infrequent player in Republican primaries. Consider this timeline:
- 2020: No primary
- 2016: No primary. However, a caucus was held.
- 2012: No primary. However, a caucus was held.
- 2008: No primary. However, a caucus was held.
- 2004: No primary or caucus held.
- 2000: No primary. However, there was a Kansas Republican State Committee Delegate-Selection Meeting.
- 1996: No primary or caucus held.
All of those bullet points add up to 30 years without a presidential primary in the Sunflower State. Most recently, according to USA Today, the Republican party in 2020 “canceled primaries in several states, citing overwhelming support for President Donald Trump’s re-election.”
While not primaries, the results of the caucuses before 2016 are revealing.
In 2012, the caucus system showed the state’s preference for Rick Santorum, the evangelical firebrand whose conservative ideals ultimately hobbled his chances to represent the party. He earned 33 delegates over Mitt Romney, who would eventually be the GOP nominee.
In 2008, Mike Huckabee, another social conservative and the former Arkansas governor, pulled in more than 59% of the Kansas Republican caucus result. That earned Huckabee 36 delegates, with the rest of the candidates walking away empty-handed from Kansas.
In 2000, George W. Bush earned 100% support from the Delegate-Selection Meeting mentioned above.
After watching Iowa’s difficulty in tallying results from its 2020 caucus, Kansas smartly approved a state-run primary. As Maria Cramer of the New York Times wrote after the Iowa meltdown, the move toward more inclusive primaries have been partly a result of “the encouragement of the Democratic National Committee to use a government-run primary.”
In Kansas in 2024, that’s exactly what we will get: a primary administered by the Kansas Secretary of State.
The last caucus winner
Here’s your reward for reading this far: the last caucus winner in Kansas was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who more than doubled Trump’s totals in 2016. Cruz earned 24 delegates to Trump’s nine by gathering 35,000 caucus votes to Trump’s 17,000.
In addition to being more recent than caucuses involving Huckabee and Santorum, the 2016 result is useful because it involved one of the 2024 candidates: Trump.
Perhaps heartland conservatives will back Trump again, signaling that so much can be forgiven. A vote for Trump over the alternatives would signal that voters find it insignificant the onetime president was found liable for rape and defamation. Kansas voters would also need to overlook the briar patch of other criminal investigations — ranging from alleged election tampering to alleged misuse of classified documents.
However, the preferences that Kansans have shown — if only through caucuses — is for career politicians who carry social conservative credentials. Of course, Trump was an occasional politician as president. However, he seemed uncommitted to the work of actually governing, unlike candidates such as Huckabee.
Enter a new and popular state governor: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. His culture war campaign will provide another choice, even if it’s one adjacent to Trump.
Conservative Kansas lawmakers’ choices suggest their sympathy for many of the bills DeSantis has signed and celebrated in Florida. Converting school libraries into zones of conflict and censorship? Passing bills that threaten LGBTQ+ residents of the state? DeSantis unfortunately seems in sync with these impulses. Just read our state’s news in the last year. Such attacks on “wokeness” have an audience in Kansas, unfortunately.
Tim Scott and Nikki Haley have also entered the campaign. Kansans could steer toward them, as they have favored moderate candidates in statewide elections in the past. (See Kris Kobach’s losses in his races for U.S. Senate and governor, along with the election of Democratic governors.)
With four candidates like this available, conservative Kansans might pause at the ballot box.
The vote, I predict, will be interesting regardless of the margins. A resounding victory for Trump would show Kansans doubling down on him in a way they were nervous to do in 2016. A close race would show heartland conservatives torn about the best candidate.
My prediction, which after all was the reason for all of this research? Unless Trump is criminally convicted, I see him barely winning Kansas over DeSantis in 2024.
Regardless, the return of primaries to our state means that March 19, 2024, will see presidential primary news coming once again from Kansas.
Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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