Here’s who is backing Laura Kelly and Derek Schmidt

Gun Rights

With about five weeks to go until Election Day, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican challenger Attorney General Derek Schmidt are touting endorsements.

“Endorsements are like everything else in the close race: They matter,” said Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty. “They really matter in a race like the Kansas governor’s race, where both campaigns are targeting their supporters. That’s where the power of endorsements lies. It’s not just a one-day story. An endorsement, it can lead to getting hopefully the members of that group then to get out and vote for that candidate.”

The latest polling suggests the race remains close and effectively a tossup, with enough undecided voters to sway the election either way.

“Every candidate wants to shore up their base vote, and so the endorsements are a demonstration for a candidate that their base vote is behind them,” Beatty said.

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For Schmidt, it could help secure conservative Republicans who would consider defecting to independent Sen. Dennis Pyle and moderates who may have voted for Kelly in 2018.

Many lobbyist groups tend to support candidates from a particular party, so an average voter may not give much weight to the endorsement.

“Your average person sees an endorsement and just says, yeah we would expect that, but there’s some practical benefits to them for sure,” Beatty said.

Groups may ask members to help the candidate, from fundraising to efforts to get out the vote. It also gives a candidate the chance to better connect with members of the organization. When a group that traditionally endorses candidates from a particular party opts to sit out an election cycle — or switch sides — that can also signal an issue.

“If a candidate does not get the endorsements that they normally get, that’s a sign of a big problem,” he said.

More:Kansas Chamber endorses Derek Schmidt over Laura Kelly as ‘best choice’ for business

Economy, economic development, agriculture

The Kansas Chamber, a Republican-leaning organization and one of the most influential interest groups in state politics, backed Schmidt.

“Derek Schmidt is a proven champion of Kansas job creators,” said Christie Kriegshauser of the Chamber PAC. “He has fought against harmful and unnecessary regulations, stopped federal government overreach, and pushed to remove barriers to grow jobs and increase community investments.”

The organization, which tends to support Republicans, acknowledged a “working relationship” with Kelly.

“Governor Kelly looks forward to working with the Chamber in her second term to continue growing the Kansas economy,” said Kelly campaign spokesperson Lauren Fitzgerald.

Local chambers of commerce in Topeka and Hutchinson have praised Kelly’s economic development track record, though they stopped short of endorsing her.

Kelly has picked up endorsements from multiple local and regional labor unions, which tend to support Democrats.

“Governor Kelly made sure that labor has a seat at the table while she grows Kansas’ economy across the state,” said Bo Moreno of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 124.

“The successes that Governor Kelly accomplished these past few years is nothing short of incredible,” said Tony Spicer of AFL-CIO. “Businesses are flocking to Kansas, unemployment has hit an all-time low, and there are more job opportunities than ever before.”

More:How is the Kansas economy? You’re going to see wide range of assessments in ads for governor

Schmidt also has the support of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas. Elizabeth Patton, of AFP, said Schmidt would lead on “finding commonsense ways to rein in government spending, stop the ever-increasing tax burden on Kansas families, and push back on harmful government overreach.”

Agricultural lobbies, which typically back Republicans, are supporting Schmidt.

After staying neutral in the 2018 race, Kansas Farm Bureau endorsed Schmidt. President Rich Felts said he earned overwhelming support from county Farm Bureau boards after “decades of working with and supporting our members in the legislature and as attorney general.” The Kansas Livestock Association has also backed Schmidt.

Kelly has picked up a handful of endorsements from individual farmers and ranchers.

“For a bright future for agriculture and rural Kansas, we must re-elect Governor Laura Kelly,” said Adrian Polansky, a former secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

More:Gov. Laura Kelly backs farmers in fighting EPA atrazine water pollution regulations

Education

Public education advocacy groups and teachers unions tend to lean Democratic. Kelly picked up support from the Kansas National Education Association, Kansas American Federation of Teachers, Game On for Kansas Schools, Education First Shawnee Mission, Stand Up Blue Valley and United Teachers of Wichita.

“While we’re advocating for improving our profession and for our students, it’s great to know we have an ally in the Governor’s office working alongside us, not against us,” said Brent Lewis, of UTW.

The groups were critical of funding cuts under former Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican.

“Previous administrations refused to listen to parents and failed to protect Kansas public education,” said Judith Deedy, of Game on for Kansas Schools.

“After nearly a decade lost to Sam Brownback’s policies to cut and gut public schools, Governor Kelly has restored public education so that our neighborhood schools have returned to being the source of great pride in every Kansas community,” said Sherri Schwanz, of KNEA.

More:Laura Kelly calls herself the ‘education governor.’ Derek Schmidt says she broke promises to Kansas.

Schmidt isn’t impressed with teachers unions supporting Kelly.

“Laura Kelly and the unions that bankroll her campaigns believe that they are in charge of our schools,” Schmidt said. “They are not.”

Schmidt, who backs a parents bill of rights, has won support from top Republican legislators on education issues and governors in other states who have championed conservative policies on education.

Former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines has campaigned with Schmidt and filmed a TV ad for the Republican Governors Association. Gaines competed in NCAA women’s swimming against Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete at the University of Pennsylvania. Kelly, who is endorsed by the state’s leading LGBT rights group Equality Kansas, has twice vetoed a bill to ban transgender women and girls from competing in women’s and girls’ sports.

“When I found out Kansas of all places has a radical Democrat who has vetoed a fairness in women’s sports bill twice, I knew I had to come help Derek Schmidt highlight how important this issue is to women, and especially young women and girls,” Gaines said.

Schmidt’s school safety proposal, which calls for more school resource officers, has the backing of Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, a Republican, and Kansas Fraternal Order of Police president Casey Slaughter.

“The SRO program is a fantastic program that broke down a lot of barriers between kids and officers, plus there is that extra added layer of security there,” Easter said.

More:In the wake of Uvalde shooting, Kansas educators and politicians weigh what to do on school safety

Public safety

In addition to Easter and the police union, Schmidt picked up endorsements from multiple Kansas sheriffs, some prosecutors, the National Border Patrol Council and National Latino Peace Officers Association. Law enforcement groups tend to lean Republican.

“Derek understands how to win the toughest fights against the worst kinds of criminals,” said Shawnee County Sheriff Brian Hill. “He has years of experience and the strong, commonsense leadership that Kansas needs to restore law and order to our great state.”

The Kansas Highway Patrol troopers union endorsed Schmidt, openly opposing four more years of their current boss. The Patrol has been rocked by a scandalous administration tested by multiple federal lawsuits related to alleged sexual harassment and retaliation by the Kelly-appointed superintendent.

“This Highway Patrol administration is plagued with scandal and lawsuits, sullying the reputation of the KHP, and creating low morale for our members who believe in the KHP tradition of professionalism and high ethics,” said Bryan Clark, of the Kansas State Troopers Association PAC.

The group didn’t endorse either Kelly or opponent Kris Kobach in 2018.

The Kansas Fraternal Order of Police had endorsed Kelly in 2018 but now opposes her. Slaughter said the union has had “zero communication” with the governor, who “has been a huge disappointment to us.”

The Kansas State Council of Fire Fighters opposed Kelly in 2018. The firefighters union switched sides in 2022.

“Governor Kelly has helped Kansas firefighters feel seen and advocated for, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work with Governor Kelly in her second term,” said the council’s Matt Jackson.

Kelly has the endorsement of Everytown for Gun Safety, while Schmidt is supported by the National Rifle Association.

More:What Kansas governor and attorney general candidates say about new violent crime numbers

Politicians

Schmidt has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, but he hasn’t touted Trump’s support in TV ads. Kelly, however, has used video of her meeting with Trump during the pandemic to beef up her bipartisan credentials in TV ads.

Trump said Schmidt “will be a popular and very wise choice,” citing his positions on crime, the border, gun rights and the military.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, of Florida, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin, of Virginia, have both traveled to Johnson County to campaign and fundraise for Schmidt.

The Kansas Democratic Party contended Schmidt’s visitors are “proving he’s incapable of rallying support for his campaign from actual Kansans.” Around the same time, Kelly brought in her own out-of-state supporter, former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat.

Schmidt also has the backing of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, all of whom are Republicans.

More:Ron DeSantis in Kansas for Derek Schmidt event. Here’s what his stop means for the governor’s race.

Kelly has touted endorsements from moderate Republicans, including former Gov. Bill Graves. Graves, who was governor from 1995-2003, endorsed Kelly in 2018. Schmidt worked as legal counsel to Graves’s office early in his career.

“It is no surprise that Graves has again endorsed a Democrat,” Schmidt campaign spokesperson CJ Grover said. “After leaving Kansas 20 years ago, Graves now has the opportunity to retire tax free under strong Republican leadership in Florida. We are going to win so Derek Schmidt can help other seniors retire tax free here in Kansas.”

Former Republican Gov. Mike Hayden also endorsed Kelly, joining Graves and Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and John Carlin as past governors backing Kelly. Schmidt also has the endorsement of a former governor: Jeff Colyer, who stepped into the role when Sam Brownback left for the Trump administration. Colyer had briefly run against Schmidt in the primary before dropping out due to health concerns.

Former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum on Monday added her name to the list of Republicans endorsing Kelly. While Kassebaum endorsed Kelly in 2018, she had stayed out of the 2022 race until the final month. Schmidt once served as a staffer for Kassebaum.

Other former GOP politicians backing Kelly include U.S. Sen. Sheila Frahm, RNC Committeewoman Alicia Salisbury, Attorney General Robert Stephan, Rep. Jan Kessinger and Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger.

Schmidt had no serious primary challenger by the time the Aug. 2 election rolled around, but party infighting plagued other races. Kansas Republicans quickly coalesced around each other afterward, with Schmidt locking down support from prominent GOP politicians.

Former Kansas congressman and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Schmidt “has always fought for the most vulnerable and always stood up to do the right thing.”

Endorsements from former U.S. Sens. Bob Dole and Pat Roberts are featured prominently on Schmidt’s website. Roberts said he admires Schmidt’s leadership and that he understands rural America.

“Like myself, Attorney General Derek Schmidt has made it his goal to put the needs of Kansans first and to make a positive difference for our state,” Dole said before he died last year. “He’s a strong Republican, and he has what it takes to win and to lead with common sense and decency.”

More:Here’s how former US Sen. Nancy Kassebaum wants Bob Dole to be remembered and taught in history classes

Elections and abortion

Stephen McAllister endorsed Kelly, despite working as solicitor general under Schmidt and as the U.S. Attorney for Kansas under Trump. McAllister based his decision on Schmidt’s support for a Texas-led lawsuit that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He said the case was “legally unsupportable” and that Schmidt bears some responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Election transparency and voter advocacy group End Citizens United / Let America Vote has also endorsed Kelly.

“At this critical time when partisan politics are jeopardizing the fundamental American right to be heard and represented by your government, it is essential that we elect Governors who believe in the democratic process,” said Tiffany Muller of ECU/LAV.

Election conspiracy theorists have divided Republicans as they continue to pursue legal challenges after voters overwhelmingly rejected the so-called Value Them Both amendment this summer. The abortion referendum came after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — a move that energized voters.

More:Kansas primary election officially over, despite anti-abortion activist vowing, ‘I’m not done yet’

Kelly has the backing of Emily’s List, a national group that supports abortion rights, but her campaign has not touted it. Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes endorsed her in 2018, but has not made an official announcement this election cycle.

Schmidt secured the endorsements of anti-abortion groups Kansans for Life and Kansas Family Voice, and he was a backer of Value Them Both.

He has said he will vote against retaining some Kansas Supreme Court justices, but has not specified which ones he supports and opposes. While the debate question that prompted the response was specific to the court’s landmark abortion ruling, Schmidt did not specify whether his position on retention stemmed from that case or any case in particular.

“Derek is a strong supporter of the institution of the family,” said James Dobson, an evangelical Christian leader who founded Focus on the Family. “He is a conservative who believes in building a climate of opportunity for all Kansans and protecting traditional values like religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and the rule of law.”

More information from the candidate campaigns on their endorsements is available at www.schmidtforkansas.com/endorsements and www.laurakellyforkansas.com/news.

More:In rollicking Kansas State Fair appearance, Laura Kelly and Derek Schmidt debate abortion, economy

Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at jtidd@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.

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