Sep 25, 2021 12:00 PM

Poll: Kelly holds slim margin over Schmidt in Kansas governor’s race

Posted Sep 25, 2021 12:00 PM
New polling shows Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly with a slight edge over Attorney General Derek Schmidt, left, in a likely 2022 gubernatorial showdown following former Gov. Jeff Colyer’s withdrawal from the GOP primary. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)
New polling shows Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly with a slight edge over Attorney General Derek Schmidt, left, in a likely 2022 gubernatorial showdown following former Gov. Jeff Colyer’s withdrawal from the GOP primary. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Democratic governor’s job approval at 53%; GOP attorney general’s at 40%

By TIM CARPENTER
Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — An early survey in the 2022 election cycle shows Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly with a narrow advantage over Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt in a head-to-head gubernatorial showdown of two statewide officeholders gearing up for that campaign.

The poll by Clarity Campaign Labs, a liberal-leaning firm in Washington, D.C., at the behest of EMILY’s List, which promotes Democratic women candidates, indicated Kelly had a 3 percentage point advantage on Schmidt. Kelly held support of 47% of participants to Schmidt’s 44% in a survey with a 3.4% margin of error.

Kelly attracted backing from 83% of voters who considered themselves ideologically moderate and 21% who viewed themselves as somewhat conservative.

Laphonza Butler, newly appointed president of EMILY’s List, said Kelly had proven herself a champion of women and families during a period of unprecedented health and economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Butler expressed confidence in Kelly’s path to re-election.

“The numbers tell us that Kansans appreciate her leadership,” Butler said. “A majority of Kansans across party lines approve of Governor Kelly’s performance in office throughout her first term.”

Kelly and the Kansas Democratic Party have sought to convince voters the state’s economy was in a strong position. The governor has touted expansion in business investment and associated job growth. She says she was integral to achieving proper funding of K-12 public schools, restoring stability to the state’s transportation program and overhauling the child welfare system.

The Kansas Republican Party and Schmidt have argued Kelly fumbled the state’s response to COVID-19. They’ve asserted she responded to the pandemic by unnecessarily closing businesses, imposing mask mandates and limiting the size of gatherings at places of worship. In addition, the Kansas GOP has sought to nationalize the governor’s race by taking issue with policies embraced by President Joe Biden.

The survey taken more than one year prior to next year’s general election revealed 53% of respondents approved of the job Kelly had done as governor with 41% disapproving of her performance. Across the political spectrum, 27% of self-identified Republicans expressed approval of her track record as governor since 2019 along with 69% of  independents and 94% of self-identified Democrats.

In terms of Schmidt, the pollsters said 40% of participants approved and 42% disapproved of his performance as attorney general. During the GOP primary campaign, Schmidt has sought to convince Republicans of his conservative credentials and eagerness to push back against policies of Biden.

In 2018, Kelly defeated the Republican nominee, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, by securing 47.8% of the vote. Kobach had prevailed in back-to-back statewide campaigns for secretary of state, but couldn’t translate high name recognition and a GOP registration advantage into victory in the governor’s race.

Kelly’s first campaign for governor emphasized unpopularity of former Gov. Sam Brownback, who had stepped down to work in the administration of President Donald Trump. Instead of distancing himself from Brownback, Kobach advocated resumption of the Brownback economic experiment that centered on slashing state income taxes. Spending wasn’t reduced a comparable amount under Brownback and the state struggled with budget problems until his tax program was repealed in 2017.

In her campaign for governor, Kelly asserted Brownback’s leadership jeopardized the state’s education and highway systems and undermined the safety net for vulnerable Kansas. She also said Kobach was “Sam Brownback on steroids.”

The survey for EMILY’s List showed Brownback remained unpopular among Kansas voters. In this poll, 17% said they were in favor of returning to Brownback-era policies. At the same time, 56% of respondents wanted to “go in a different direction” than policy championed by Brownback.

Overall, 30% approved of how Brownback did his job as governor and 62% disapproved of his performance as the state’s chief executive.

The telephone survey of 810 registered voters in Kansas was conducted Sept. 13-15. The sample was weighted by the polling firm to reflect a likely 2022 general electorate. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.45%.