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If the candidate endorsed by Donald Trump becomes governor of Kansas, the former president might not have much claim to an Election Night victory lap.
Trump’s backing is such a small part of Derek Schmidt’s campaign that an attentive TV watcher can count the number of Trump appearances in the Republican nominee’s ads on one finger.
“He’s been almost completely absent” in the contest to decide whether Gov. Laura Kelly (D-Kan.) gets a second term, Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty said of Trump.
Trump’s cameo role is in the only election where a Democratic governor is running for re-election in a state Trump won in 2020.
“There’s no better example of studying what voters are thinking about in 2022 than this Kansas governor’s race,” Beatty said. “If Laura Kelly wins, it will be because voters were thinking about Kansas-centered issues, primarily. If Derek Schmidt wins it will be because voters thought about national issues, primarily.”
One of the Schmidt campaign’s final commercials shows Trump shaking hands with border agents and posing for a photo. The scene lasts less than four seconds.
Kelly also included Trump in her campaign’s first commercial. That ad shows Trump listening to what she has to say for almost three seconds.
Trump’s appearance in the Democrat incumbent’s ad supports Kelly’s campaign theme of being able to collaborate across partisan lines. “Like most Kansans, I’m not too far right or too far left. I’ve always been pretty middle of the road,” Kelly said in another ad.
She’s also endorsed by former US Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), by two former Kansas Republican governors, and by former Kansas Attorney General Carla J. Stovall (R).
Kelly talks about landing a $4 billion investment from Panasonic Corp., the largest in state history. The company will construct one of the world’s largest electric vehicle battery factories of its kind in De Soto.
Kelly also touts increased funding for public schools and recent infrastructure construction starts.
She’s critical of her rival for being the attorney general who defended in court former Gov. Sam Brownback’s “experiment” of drastically cutting the state budget, which in part led to schools limiting instruction to four days a week.
Schmidt emphasizes inflation and criticizes President Joe Biden for profligate spending and being on the wrong side of social issues. Schmidt argues for lower taxes and touts local support.
The first featured endorsements on his campaign website are the Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas State Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police, Kansas Highway Patrol PAC, the late US Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), and former US Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
The endorsement by Trump, who carried the state in 2020 with 56% of the vote, is displayed after that.
Schmidt accuses Kelly of being out of step with everyday Kansans, saying in one ad that she “locked Kansas kids out of their classrooms” and “pushed for liberal spending like Biden.”
Schmidt criticizes the participation of transgender athletes on female sports teams, books and curriculum used in the state’s public schools, an uptick of crime around the nation, and the Biden administration’s policies for dealing with asylum-seekers and economic migrants at the southern US border.
“Derek Schmidt is running—and I don’t mean this in a bad way—a generic campaign,” said University of Kansas associate political science professor Patrick Miller. “I think that’s a smart strategy for him.”
“He’s saying the word Biden a lot. He’s saying inflation. He’s saying red tape. He’s saying taxes,” Miller said.
Kelly, who won with 48% of the vote in her first run for Kansas governor in 2018, was leading Schmidt 46% to 43% among respondents in the latest Emerson College/Nexstar Media poll. That’s within the poll’s three-point margin of error.
More Kansans are registered as Republicans than any other party—874,446, according the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. The state has a large bloc of unaffiliated voters—543,315. There are 518,651 registered Democrats and 21,164 Libertarians.
Heading into the final stretch of the campaign, the Republican Governors Association painted Kelly as too liberal for the state. “She should have never been governor,” said RGA spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez, arguing that Kelly shouldn’t count as achievements signing legislation passed by the Republican legislature.
Kelly is “saying she will work with anyone,” including Donald Trump, said Beatty. “She’s trying to refute the nationalization of this race. We’ll find out if it works.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Joyce in Chicago at firstname.lastname@example.org