Kris Kobach jogs the parade route, stopping to lean in or duck down and greet anyone who might vote for him for Kansas secretary of state, lamenting that he can’t shake hands with even one-tenth of the hundreds who line the streets.


Kris Kobach jogs the parade route, stopping to lean in or duck down and greet anyone who might vote for him for Kansas secretary of state, lamenting that he can’t shake hands with even one-tenth of the hundreds who line the streets.
The Republican candidate, a law professor known nationally for helping Arizona draft its new immigration law, doesn’t have much time with each potential voter at the Maple Leaf Festival. Kobach’s critics ask whether he’ll be similarly torn — or distracted — if he defeats Democratic incumbent Chris Biggs.
Kobach says if he’s elected, he can continue advising city and state officials across the nation on immigration issues in his spare time. The promise attracts some voters but leaves Biggs and others skeptical.
In Baldwin City, Kobach’s pace is quick even before the parade, while other participants stand in line, chatting. He arrives 20 minutes ahead with an unassembled float, then helps tie signs to a trailer, hitches it to a cart and gives directions to the volunteer who’ll drive it as Kobach jogs from place to place.
“People support me in this race because they know I’m driven,” Kobach said before eating a Tootsie Roll to get the energy he needs for jogging. “Similarly, my opponents dislike me because I’m driven.”
Biggs is a few minutes back in the parade lineup, without a float but walking in front of supporters with a big banner. He carries a vintage guitar, stopping near the end to strum a little for spectators.
He’s recorded a CD selling on the Internet, and a web site for his band, Kansas Heart, extols “his powerful guitar playing and warm baritone voice.” But he says what he does in his spare time won’t pull him away from the secretary of state’s duties, while Kobach’s immigration work would.
“He’s obsessed with that issue, and that’s fine — that’s where his heart is,” Biggs said in an interview. “Bless his heart, but it’s not on being Kansas secretary of state.”
Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson appointed Biggs in March to replace Ron Thornburgh, a four-term Republican who took a private-sector job. A Libertarian, Phillip Horatio Lucas, of El Dorado, and a Reform Party candidate, Derek Langseth, of Valley Center, also are on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Biggs, 52, from Junction City, is a former Geary County attorney who narrowly lost the 2002 attorney general’s race. He was Kansas securities commissioner until his appointment as secretary of state.
Kobach, 44, from Piper in Wyandotte County, teaches law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He served nearly two years in the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft before running unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004. He’s also a former Kansas Republican Party chairman.
He promises an aggressive fight against election fraud and proposes requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. Signs on his Baldwin City float said, “My Daddy will keep Kansas elections clean,” and one of his daughters, Reagan, sat on a hunter’s stool in a bathtub, a bubble-maker going behind her.
The secretary of state’s office has compiled a list of about three dozen reported fraud cases since 1998, some involving multiple ballots. Kobach contends it’s probably only a fraction of existing problems. Biggs says the list shows problems are rare and don’t warrant policies that could suppress voter turnout.
But Kobach himself is the bigger issue.
His strongest supporters are fellow conservatives. Kobach said he borrowed the float’s claw-foot tub from Ashcroft. The tailgate of his black, extended-cab Sierra pickup displays a Christian fish symbol, and the license plate says, “1787,” the year the U.S. Constitution was drafted.
State Sen. John Vratil, of Leawood, said GOP moderates like him are uncomfortable with Kobach.
“They’re scared of him,” said Vratil. “They see him as having the potential for being a political demagogue.”
Kobach’s visibility in the debate over illegal immigration — advising cities and states wanting to crack down — stokes the discomfort. Kobach notes in his campaign literature that he’s made dozens of television appearances, highlighting those on Fox network shows.
Dennis Rice, a retired insurance underwriting manager from Manhattan, doesn’t put much stock in Kobach’s promise to spend from 40 to 50 hours a week on the secretary of state’s duties. The 64-year-old asked, “Well, is that enough?”
A Biggs supporter and friend, Rice joined him for his 52nd birthday party in the Aggieville section of Manhattan, near Kansas State University. The football game with the University of Kansas was on TV and, during halftime, Biggs joined two friends in a short jam session. His cake was shaped like a banjo, which he also plays.
Rice said he worries that many Republicans may vote a straight-party ticket in what’s seen as a GOP year.
As for Kobach’s immigration work, he said, “What does that have to do with being secretary of state of Kansas?”
Kobach has suggested that Kansas elections are run loosely enough that illegal immigrants could register and even vote. Biggs calls it an imaginary problem, given a lack of documented cases; Kobach argues the dearth shows officials’ lack of interest in pursuing fraud.
At the Baldwin City parade, at least a few Kobach supporters wear orange bracelets saying, “Secure our borders.”
“That’s what brought him to my attention,” Don DePriest, a 63-year-old Ottawa web page designer, said of Kobach. “I think there are other qualifications, and he more than meets them.”
DePriest said he’s a former roofing contractor who competed against firms that hired illegal immigrants. He voted in advance for Kobach so he can be a poll watcher on Election Day.
During the parade, Steve Barton, a 58-year-old rural Douglas County resident and “stay at home husband,” greeted Kobach enthusiastically with, “Power to the people!”
Barton said he’s voting for Kobach because of illegal immigration.
“Something needs to be done,” Barton said. “He brings it to the national forefront.”

Online:
Kris Kobach’s campaign: www.kriskobach.org/
Chris Biggs’ campaign: www.biggsforkansas.com/