OPINION

Bob Dole endorsement a powerful tool for Derek Schmidt in GOP primary — and kryptonite against Jeff Colyer

By Bob Beatty
Special to Gannett Kansas

The Republican primary for Kansas governor is a battle of political heavyweights. Current Attorney General Derek Schmidt vs. former Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Schmidt is looking to move into the governor’s office after 10 years as AG and after turning down chances to run for governor or U.S. congress in 2018 and U.S. Senate in 2020.

He seems to have strategically picked 2022 as his year for moving on up the ladder — although, in retrospect, the 2018 2nd District congressional race might have been a cakewalk for him, and saved the party from two years of Steve Watkins.

Colyer is trying to reclaim the job he held for less than a year after taking over when Gov. Sam Brownback flew the coop for Washington, D.C. There’s an air of redemption in his candidacy: In the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary, Colyer lost to Kris Kobach by only 343 votes out of more than 317,000 cast, the smallest margin of loss by a sitting governor in a primary in U.S. history.

Democrat Laura Kelly went on to defeat Kobach in the general election, and no doubt Colyer believes he could have beat her.

For both candidates, the 2022 primary is a big deal. For Schmidt, it’s the race that he’s chosen for his long-awaited move out of the AG’s office but one that could deliver his first-ever loss. For Colyer, it can’t help but be personal. His party rejected him in 2018, and he is out to show them they were wrong.

Given the stakes, it’s expected that the two candidates and the groups that support them will go heavily negative in the months before the August 2022 vote and it becomes a bare knuckles-type fight — the Kansas political equivalent of King Kong vs. Godzilla. Or Batman versus Superman.

And sticking with the superhero theme, it could be that Schmidt just picked up the kryptonite to Colyer’s future attacks. The source? The endorsement of former Kansas Senator Bob Dole.

Dole — war hero, U.S. senator, 1996 GOP presidential nominee, diplomat — is truly a Kansas icon and along with Dwight D. Eisenhower possibly the most revered and trusted Kansas political figure ever. At age 98, when Dole speaks, GOP voters listen.

In the summer of 2020, when Roger Marshall was under attack in the U.S. Senate GOP primary, he turned to Bob Dole. A dark money political action committee was spending millions in ads calling Marshall a “swamp monster,” and Marshall responded with a counter-ad saying, “Bob Dole says ‘Don’t fall for it,’” with Dole looking at the camera and saying: “Take it from me. I know Roger Marshall and I trust Roger Marshall.”

Like Thor’s hammer, Dole crushed the attacks.

In his endorsement statement, Dole articulated what could be a devastatingly strong TV ad for Schmidt if he comes under attack by Colyer or Colyer-affiliated forces: “He’s a strong Republican, and he has what it takes to win and to lead with common sense and decency.”

As for Colyer, he has time to figure his strategy out, but attacking Dole is probably not wise: His former campaign manager made a post on Facebook calling Dole a “swamp creature.”

Within a few days, the post was gone.